The Expendables (Film Review)
2 out of 4 stars
With its promise of ‘the greatest action cast ever assembled’, according to distributor Lionsgate, ‘The Expendables’ should have been 2010’s holy grail for male moviegoers. Instead, it’s one of the year’s most disappointing films. Plagued by uneven acting, poorly edited action scenes, a paper-thin storyline, and absurd levels of gore, the film essentially reinforces all the clichés of the action genre in the wrong way. Although it does boast flashes of inspiration, ‘The Expendables’ unfortunately squanders most of its premise’s enormous potential.
As the title makes clear, the movie’s heroes are the Expendables: the biggest, buffest, and most bad-ass mercenaries since the Dirty Dozen.
Led by war veteran Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), the current team includes knife expert Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), martial artist Ying Yang (Jet Li), sniper Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), demolitions man Toll Road (Randy Couture), and heavy weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews).
Additionally, former Expendables Tool (Mickey Rourke) and Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) are also on hand to liven up the proceedings. Tool runs a tattoo parlour in New Orleans where the gang reclines between missions, while Trench makes a single appearance at a church, where he re-unites with his old rival Ross for a brief but fond sparring match.
However, the Expendables’ play time ends quickly once they receive their latest mission. Under orders from Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), a shadowy government agent, the Expendables must travel to the Latin American island of Vilena and overthrow tyrannical dictator General Garza (David Zayas), as well as his ex-CIA accomplice James Munroe (Eric Roberts).
Initially, the operation seems like a suicide mission, as the island is almost completed guarded by the general’s hundred-strong personal army. However, when Ross meets and falls for the general’s beautiful daughter Sandra (Gisele Itie) while scouting the island, the mission takes a personal turn, and the Expendables must use all of their strength and cunning to defeat the ruthless enemies ahead of them.
Obviously, the main reason ‘The Expendables’ even exists is due to the testosterone-charged action super cast. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Mickey Rourke in one movie? Sounds like the most explosive, action packed movie of the decade, right?
When the four actors above are on screen, ‘The Expendables’ does indeed live up to its promise. As team leader Barney Ross, Sylvester Stallone has never been better, radiating steely charm and kicking ass harder than most men half his age.
Likewise, Mickey Rourke also lights up the screen with his portrayal of Tool, the world-weary former Expendable who acts as a mentor to the rest of the team. Although Rourke’s role is small, he brings a surprising depth to his part, even giving an emotional speech on losing his soul after witnessing the horrors of the Bosnian War.
Finally, Arnold Schwarzenegger steals away the entire movie with his single scene in the church, engaging in a hilarious verbal duel with Willis and Stallone that will have the audience laughing out loud in their seats.
Unfortunately, three of those actors, who also happen to be the cast’s biggest stars, are only on screen for several minutes. The rest of the movie is dominated by decidedly less talented names such as Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, and virtually unknown sports stars Randy Couture and Terry Crews, Although the acting ability on display varies, all of them fall well short of the endless charisma displayed by Stallone and the three action legends above.
Out of the supporting cast, British actor Jason Statham fares the best as knife expert Lee Christmas. A modest star due to action hits such as ‘The Transporter’, his character stars in some of the movie’s most amusing scenes, including an inspired basketball match where the game quickly turns violent and out of control.
After that however, the cast descends downhill. As martial artist Ying Yang, Jet Li delivers the worst performance of his career, playing such a shallow and stereotypical character that it’s a wonder Asian rights groups haven’t protested against the film. Those looking for proof of the role’s idiocy need only read Li’s lines: “Need pay raise! I’m too short! Means everything twice as difficult for me.’
Amazingly though, Li’s performance is actually topped in terms of sheer farce by that of Dolph Lundgren as sniper Gunnar Jensen. Since the 90’s, Lundgren’s work has been exclusively straight-to-DVD, and it’s easy to see why. With his ridiculous sneer and his unintelligible caveman mutter, Lundgren appears to be either constipated or suffering from severe brain damage throughout the film, ruining nearly every scene he’s in. Even Chuck Norris would be offended by the acting atrocities on display.
With its promise of the ‘greatest action cast ever’ revealed as a con, ‘The Expendables’ still has one trick left up its sleeve: the action itself. Unfortunately, that too proves to be a decidedly mixed bag.
With the exception of a brilliant scene where Stallone must jump off a pier onto the wing of a plane in take-off, most of the action scenes are woefully marred by poor editing, a lack of creativity, and almost comic levels of gore. As a result, key set pieces such as the opening infiltration of the Somali pirate ship and climactic invasion of General Garza’s palace are packed to bursting point with explosions and severed limbs, but almost completely devoid of any genuine suspense or tension.
Worse of all, the flimsy structure of the plot is one of Stallone’s weakest to date, even for the action genre. For all their military training, The Expendables have absolutely no unified plan on how to capture the island, even abandoning the mission at one point and heading back to the States for a lengthy period of the movie. Unsurprisingly, this only further detracts from the quality of the film’s action.
Ultimately, ‘The Expendables’ does warrant a mild recommendation for the brief yet iconic union of action icons Schwarzenegger and Stallone. However, it definitely could have reached greater heights, and pales in comparison to other 2010 action titles such as ‘Predators’ and ‘The A-Team’. Hopefully, Stallone will return with a better cast and a tighter script for the Expendables’ next outing.
‘The Expendables’ is currently playing in mainland China and Hong Kong.