Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, David Zayas, Eric Roberts
Rated: R for strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language.
The 80s and 90s were the heyday of a particular flavor of big, dumb action movie. “Rambo,” “Commando,” “Red Heat,” and the rest had straightforward plots, enormously muscular action stars as their leading men, and were packed with semi-cartoonish violence. If there was a subplot, it usually involved a love interest for the hero — a girl who needed to be rescued (from the bad guys or from the abusive jerk she took up with after dumping our hero).
“The Expendables” takes all the cliches from those films and a bunch of the stars of those films, and rolls them up into a movie which is either a big love letter to the 80s action flick or a parody of it. It’s hard to tell. Either way, though, if you miss the classic action movie, you will love it.
The plot involves a team of mercenaries hired to take out a nasty dictator (David Zayas) and a renegade CIA agent (Eric Roberts) who have turned a beautiful island in the Gulf into their own personal cocaine factory. The mercenaries have names like Lee Christmas and Hale Ceasar, but are most easily identified by the big action stars playing them: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren. Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger have bit parts. Jean-Claude Van Damme reportedly turned down a role in the film — which, given his career lately, was probably a bad move.
I could go into details about the story, but this kind of huge action flick has never really been about plot. It’s about watching big guys beat, shoot, and blow each other up. “The Expendables” does not disappoint on this front. There are gunfights. There are car chases. There are huge explosions. There are enormous guns, rippling muscles, and spurts of blood. There are plenty of one-liners, groan-worthy exchanges, running jokes (especially about Li being the shortest guy on the team), and big stars generally being ridiculously awesome. There are also some sly references to other films in the genre, as well as to Schwarzenegger’s political career.
The stuntwork is impressive, and apparently a lot of it was done by the stars themselves. Stallone got a hairline fracture in his neck during filming, but that doesn’t seem to have slowed him down any. The special effects range from capable to mediocre (when the dictator’s palace gets blown up, it’s hard to tell if it was a bad model or bad CGI; my money is on the former), but the pyrotechnics are works of art. Who cares that a line of gasoline lit on fire doesn’t really go up in a series of grenade-like explosions? It looks awesome, and that’s what really matters in this kind of flick.
If you love classic action movies, “The Expendables” is a must-see. If you like character development or subtlety in your movies, though, stay away.