SYLVESTER STALLONE, DOLPH LUNDGREN, JASON STATHAM, JET LI, STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN, Eric Roberts, CORDELIA FROM "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" AND LATTERLY "ANGEL", THE SPIN-OFF SERIES WHICH IS SET IN L.A.
With a cast like that, made up mainly of people whose names cannot be written unless capitalised (and Eric Roberts), there was surely no chance of this film failing. Stick Stallone behind the camera, fresh from the excellent series-cap of "Rocky Balboa" and the cartoon-splatter ludicrousness of the last "Rambo", and we were sure to have a big, dumb, fun 80s throwback of an action-film, drenched in testosterone, blood and bullets.
The horrible truth is, however, that "The Expendables" is more than a little bit dull.
The film opens with Stallone's band of mercenaries rescuing some hostages from some pirates or summat. Not ones with eye-patches and parrots, or ones making counterfeit movies, but ones with guns and knives and stuff like that. This scene is an indicator of things to come: a little bit flat, featuring over-edited and all-too-brief action, stilted dialogue intended to illustrate the camaraderie between the mercs and an overall feeling of anti-climax.
Now, for a film that is pitched as the ultimate action film, it seems like FUCKING AGES before there's actually any more action onscreen. Stallone and the boys go home, hang out with Mickey Rourke, Statham visits his girlfriend Cordelia, Stallone chats with Arnie and Bruce, Stallone and Statham fly a plane to an island where bad shit is going down, potter around for ages observing said bad shit, meet a slightly hot local girl who guides them around, and FINALLY get in some trouble and have another all-too-brief fight before blowing up a dock and escaping in their plane.
They go back to Mickey Rourke's to hang out, Statham goes back to Cordelia and beats up her new boyfriend, Jet Li pops up to remind you he was supposed to be in the film, Dolph Lundgren turns bad, there's a short car-chase and a brief, choppy fight between him and Jet, then Stallone decides to head back to Bad Shit Island to rescue the slightly hot local girl from her evil General father, they all go along, kill the shit out of everyone and that's the end.
I usually hate to summarise plot in my reviews, but I do it in this case to illustrate the fact that there is a dearth of action for a large portion of this action film, and when it does kick off, it is brief, uninspired, unexciting and unimpressive.
Take, for instance, the Dolph/Jet fight. Dolph Lundgren's as big as a house, Jet Li is as tiny as a mouse, so it's a perfectly imbalanced match-up that was sure to bring laughs and thrills. There's even an amusing gag where Jet lures Dolph under a low-clearance gantry and he keeps banging his lanky head. Why the scene fails to impress is simply down to editing and pacing. It feels as if one or more of the performers wasn't up to scratch in the fight-department (Looking mainly at you, Dolph), and so Stallone had to edit the shit out of the fight until you couldn't actually see what was going on.
Now, I have no problem with the shaky-cam, fast-edit trend when used wisely. The "Bourne" films portrayed fluid action throughout their jerky, choppy scenes, so I never felt lost or disorientated, but "The Expendables" is riddled with confusing, incoherently edited action which continually distracts attention from what we really should be looking at.
If you've cast Li, Statham, Lundgren, Austin etc, Sly, we've paid good money on the promise of seeing these chaps do what they do best: smacking the shit out of people. So it would be nice to be able to see who's hitting who. There's a scene towards the end of the movie which intercuts between about four different fights, each featuring people dressed in black and wearing black hats, all situated in a gloomy subterranean tunnel complex, with lots of close-ups, shaky-cam, and minuscule edits rendering it almost impossible to work out who's getting their arse handed to them by whom and why we should care.
The final battle is entertaining enough, but still suffers from the aforementioned anti-climax feeling. I couldn't help thinking "Is that it?" when Evil Eric Roberts went down, or "Already?" when Nasty Steve Austin got set on fire. There was little momentum throughout the film and, when it finally kicks off in the last act, it's over before it's even got started.
One of the major draws for this film was the chance to see Arnie, Bruce and Sly onscreen together. This happens relatively early on in the film and Bruce has about two minutes of screentime, while Arnie gets about a whole sixty seconds. The scene is a typical exposition scene with some lame, injokey banter between Stallone and Big Arn, and continues the anti-climactic theme of the film. You put Arnie, Bruce and Sly together on screen and just make them have a conversation? Bruce is the only one who can TALK, let alone ACT! Stallone intones his lines through dangly, botoxed lips, sounding alarmingly like he's swallowed a knackered old tuba, Arnie smirks and winks, has a funny accent and then fucks off, and Bruce just about gets away unscathed with some whispering threats and odd laughter.
Of course, we couldn't expect Arnie to have time to get more involved in the film, but with his face in all of the trailers it all just seems like a cynical hash job to get his name on the poster. It's as if you went to Live Aid and Freddy Mercury came onstage, said hello and then fucked off again.
It's not all bad, though. Mickey Rourke is funny and amiable playing another aging rebel with a troubled past, Dolph Lundgren turns in a memorably nutso performance, bellowing "BRING IT, HAPPY FEET!" at Jet Li, and Terry Crews has an automatic shotgun that blows people to bits real good. That's about it, though.
The film has been very successful in America and over here, and I hope that Stallone uses this success to learn from the mistakes of this film and make a sequel that gives us the balls-to-the-wall, batshit crazy, kick-arse, head-stomping action-film that this promised to be.