Film review by: Witney Seibold
Sylvester Stallone‘s “The Expendables” is one of the noisiest movies ever made. Not ten minutes can pass in this film without a massive gun battle breaking out, a car crashing into something, or a gigantic landmark exploding. Near the end of the film, one character barked an order to another: “Blow the tanks!,” and all I could do was ponder what hadn’t yet already been blown up. But the film was as good as its word, and blew up something else.
“The Expendables” is an action film that seems to be of an earlier vintage. It’s about a group of tough-as-nails mercenaries (some with their own areas of expertise) who, out of mere altruism, invade a third world nation to free its citizens, but mostly to rescue a single damsel in distress. They’re modeled after those violent commando types that were so ubiquitous during the Reagan years. They tote rapid-fire shotguns, bushelfuls of hand grenades, and deadly accurate throwing knives. They fly a customized cargo plane. In the rare moments when they’re not fighting or blowin’ shit up, they’re playfully bantering about previous jobs, poking fun at each other, and comparing matching tattoos. They have love interests, but they’re lives are not motivated by sex with women. They would rather pound some Rolling Rocks, blast the gutbucket rock (there’s a lot of CCR and Mountain on the film’s soundtrack), and challenge one another to knife-throwing contests. In short, this film is all about that one precious quality that seems to be all but absent from most modern action films: machismo.
This is a film to put hair on your chest. Even if you’re a woman.
The film famously features about a dozen action film legends and wrestlers, and does indeed feature a scene in which Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis all appear on screen together (although, I sense that clever cutting and blue-screen effects were used to fudge the fact that they weren’t actually all in the same room). Stallone, while clearly making the nostalgia grab with this stunt casting (which is, I might add, the best and wildest stunt casting in film history), seems to have a little bit more on his mind. He seems to want to direct the entire genre back to a simpler time, when heroes weren’t clever narcissists, flouncy prettyboys, or smoldering, well-coiffed twentysomethings. He wants his heroes to be, well, men. In terms of his directing, Stallone has entered into the realm of Clint Eastwood: unconcerned with the whiny trifles of the young, and able to make the kind of film he wants, he opts to slow things down a bit, and make films with a mature and classical feeling.
Yes, I just compared Stallone to Eastwood, which may be counterintuitive, as Eastwood represents an even earlier generation of Hollywood action heroes that preceded Stallone, and may be seen as even manlier. No doubt that characters in “The Expendables” all worship at Eastwood’s alter.
The story is simple: A group of mercenaries, led by Barney Ross (Stallone) is hired by a shadowy agency guy (Willis) to invade a South American island nation called Vilena to depose its leader (David Zayas). Ross discovers that El Presidente is actually being backed by a wicked, rich cocaine dealer (complete with Gordon Gekko suit and hair, and played pitch perfect by Eric Roberts), and keeps his pretty daughter (Giselle Itié) like a prisoner. Ross and his team must overcome the bits of drama they have encountered in their lives (there is a breakup scene involving, of all people, Charisma Carpenter), and take down the big bad. Seeing as all of these men are invincible, it’s likely they’ll succeed.
What a cast. The knife-throwing expert is played by Jason Statham. The kung-fu expert is played by Jet Li. The edgy drug addict is played by Dolph Lundgren. The soulful wisdom-dispenser is played by Mickey Rourke. The bad guy’s thugs are played by wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and recognizable stunt fighter Gary Daniels. The iron-fisted cautious one is played by pro UFC fighter Randy Couture. Terry Crews may not be known for his action roles, but he is rather perfect as the tough, bulky black guy. And yes, even though they don’t participate in the mayhem, there are cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I won’t tell you anything they say: it should be savored.
Imagine having lunch with that group. Oh the stories.
Is the casting enough to get you through a film like this? Seeing as I am the age I am, I think I would say yes. For extended passages, it’s just a pleasure to see some of these action veterans still in the game. They’re clearly self-aware about it too, what with lines of dialogue like “I’m not finished yet.” Once the novelty of the casting begins to wear off, you do the sense that the film is a little oversimplified, the filming a little sloppy, the editing a little too quick, and the tone a little too somber (remember when action films didn’t try to be goofy?). Even the mid-battle quips make little sense. But by that point, so much crap is exploding, so many people are getting shot and stabbed, so many fists are slamming into jaws, so many knees are being bent backwards, that you’ll have little time to reflect.
“The Expendables” is a thuggish, bedrock-like action flick with a tattoo on its bicep and a beer in its hand. It’ll have war stories for you.