expendables

The former Pendables.

Whatever effort Sylvester Stallone exerted when making The Expendables seemed to go into his appearance. Covered in the kind of body art that really brings a prison cell to life, more ripped than anyone in the SAGA catchment area has any right to be and seemingly wearing eyeliner offset by a slightly effeminate beard, he looks like a chiselled lump of wood painted to resemble a human, or a new romantic tribute act stumbling away from a terrible accident involving gamma radiation and varnish. As a physical specimen, he’s a fascinating subject worthy of further analysis, as a character, he’s about as deep as the minimum gene pool requirements needed to understand the film’s plot.

As much as was promised that this would be one last hurrah for the 80s action heroes, Stallone’s obviously held back by his desire to be taken seriously as an artist. This ambition kind of worked for Rambo, because the character’s essentially a child – albeit one who tears people’s throats out – and you feel sorry for him even when he’s being used to make lofty observations about war and human nature. But his character in The Expendables doesn’t seem quite as mentally defunct so his motivation for going to a small South American island to kill everything is the wrong kind of stupid and needlessly contrived*.

We don’t need to understand the plot machinations in The Expendables because they’re mercenaries. All we need at the start of the film is someone offering the team a bag stuffed with cash, weapons and a map highlighting a small island with a drawing of a bomb, and we’re away. The same applies to scenes showing the characters’ personal lives. As far as I’m aware Jason Statham is probably attacked by ninjas when he returns home every night so why they decide to show him have tedious relationship problems in The Expendables is beyond me.

I suspect that when he finished writing the script, Stallone probably had about 5 pages, so had to keep adding stuff that didn’t involve people getting shot to keep the budget down. This would also explain why the film is only bookended by the full team in action, the rest of the time it’s the Stallone / Statham show, which is disappointing unless you’re a fan of cheesy banter and homo-eroticism. There is a 3-way scene between Stallone, Arnie and Bruce Willis (which sounds all kinds of wrong when following the previous sentence) but whatever momentum is generated from their appearance together is soon lost thanks to poor jokes and Arnie’s distracting ‘Superman From Del Monte’ outfit.

When things do finally kick off in The Expendables it goes some way to fulfilling its potential, becoming loud and exciting, if not easy to follow.

Despite having awesome-on-paper match-ups like Jet-Li versus Dolph Lundgren, Li and Staham versus direct to video colossus, Gary Daniels, and 2 large bald men shouting at each other, the camerawork subscribes to the modern aesthetic that shakiness > ¬†being able to tell what’s going on. It’s likely that Scott Pilgrim contains better old-school fight choreography despite a common perception that it’s less manly. Not that I’d know, because it’s not out in the UK yet, hence you and my mum reading a review of the new Eric Roberts film.

Despite its flaws, I did have fun with The Expendables. It is something of a thrill to see a number of actors rise up from the bottom shelf of the video shop (ask your parents) to get their moment on the big screen again. And despite some pandering to the modern action aesthetic and his creative aspirations, Stallone has made a film that holds up to the  80s action heyday. Just think Cobra and Red Scorpion instead of Die Hard and Predator.

* For the record the reason appears to be because he’s given a drawing of an attractive lady and Mickey Rourke tells him a story that makes his eyes leak man-tears. It’s a good scene from Rourke, but a bit random.

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