Expendables, The: Sly Stallone’s Actioner

Sylvester Stallone’s all-star actioner is not only dispensable but utterly disposable. A retro combat film, thematically and ideologically, “The Expendables” belongs to the 1980s, when Stallone was still a major star with his populist “Rocky” and “Rambo” movie franchises.

Several years ago, out of a job, Stallone, who’s 64, had revived to a surprisingly moderate success “Rambo,” and now, he is trying to revitalize his career with the kind of picture he used to be good at, or at least acceptable by the public.

If you calculate the age of the actors, you may reach the conclusion that the average age is at least twice (perhaps three times) as that of the frequent moviegoers. It remains to be seen to what extent, “The Expendable” will be commercially embraced by a market ruled by teenagers, most of whom born long after Stallone’s stardom was over.
Structurally messy (at times incoherent), “The Expendables” represents sort of a class reunion of all the action stars in Hollywood of the past two decades: Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Jason Statham, along with some eccentric actors, who played both heroes and villains, such as Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts.
Indeed, Stallone’s greatest achievement is not as a co-writer or helmer, but in the casting department, bringing together and ensemble of stars, who used to be the solo carriers of their own actioners, with star billing above the title. It may be useful to ask who of that generation is missing from this schlocky class reunion, Steven Seagal and Belgian-born Jean-Claude Van Damme, to mention two thesps of the 1990s. (If there’s a sequel, they may be in it). Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, and Ben Affleck belong to different class of action stars. 
“The Expendables” (not to be confused with John Ford’s superb WWII drama of the same title) is the kind of film that the late President Ronald Reagan and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (who has a cameo in the picture) might have approved of, perhaps even enjoy.
A low-budgeter, “The Expendables” is a B-movie that its distributor Lionsgate might make a quick cash of when it opens August 13. For better or worse, it’s the kind of movies that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore (except straight to Video/DVD).
About ten people are credited as producers and exec-producers, and Stallone is credited as the co-scribe, director, and star, which means that whatever is wrong with the conception and execution is directly due to his efforts.
The poster and ads might lead you to believe that “The Expendables” may be an attempt to bring again movies like “The Great Escape,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and “The Dirty Dozen.” Nothing is farther from the truth.
Though they are more caricatures than fully developed individual characters, each member has his own skills, based on his demonstrated expertise in his former actioners. Stallone plays Barney Ross, the leader and mastermind of the team, which includes Jason Statham as the former SAS blade expert Lee Christmas, Jet Li, as the hand-to-hand combat specialist Yin Yang, Terry Crews as the long barrel specialist Hale Caesar, Randy Couture as demolition expert Toll Road, Dolph Lundgren as the precision sniper Gunner Jensen.
We are led to believe that the men are all outsiders, living in the fringes of the law and in the periphery of society. Though getting old, these hardened mercenaries have not slowed down a bit. As director, Stallone gives each man, including himself, an arduously physical task, as if saying, “Look Hollywood we are still capable of doing our own stunts.”
Penned by Stallone and Dave (“Doom”) Callaham, the tale is largely set in Vilena, a fictitious Southern American territory, presumably run by a ruthless dictator who goes by the name of General Garza (David Zayas). The band’s mission is deliberately vague. sort of a slender premise (not really a plot) to contain the half a dozen set-pieces. (The last reel is all action, with no words or dialogue, which is a blessing).
At first, their new mission seems routine, even easy, a covert, CIA-funded operation to infiltrate a territory that is exploited by corrupt and greedy American businessman James Munroe (Eric Roberts). However, it turns out that the job is riskier, more like a suicide mission.
In between combats, the men gather at the shop of Tool (Mickey Rourke, all tattoos), a retired mercenary but still a rough man, sort of a leftover of the 1980s, who now design and executes “macho” tattoos, not to mention practicing hobbies of competing in knives-throwing.
It would not be exaggeration to describe “The Expendables” as a primitive macho blue-collar actioner, one that makes, by comparison, the films of the old-time primitive director Samuel Fuller seem ultra-sophisticated, multi-nuanced, and complex.
Though not witty, the script contains some humor in making direct and indirect allusions to the actors’ physical attributes and screen careers. Fast on his feet and hood with his hands, Jet Li always suffered from his language problems and size, and so there are jokes about his being “shorty.”
Ditto for two cameos, which are the few highlights in what’s a diffuse, messy actioner, in which chases and bomb explosions erupt out of nowhere, with no preparation or set-up. The first is by Bruce Willis, who is in only one scene, nails his part; the second is an unexpected appearance by Schwarzenegger, who also delivers his lines in a self-mocking mode.
The ideology that defines the text and subtext is decidedly right-wing, with speeches/lectures on the meaning of manhood, heroism, patriotism, being true to yourself and at the same time serving larger, more honorable societal goals.
Without the caliber of talent involved, “The Expendables” is a downright schlocky and cheesy flick that would have been straight-to-DVD item.
Cast
Barney Ross – Sylvester Stallone
Lee Christma – Jason Statham
Yin Yang – Jet Li
Gunner Jensen – Dolph Lundgren
James Munroe – Eric Roberts
Toll Road – Randy Couture
Paine – Steve Austin
Gen. Garza – David Zayas
Sandra – Giselle Itie
Lacy – Charisma Carpenter
The Brit – Gary Daniels
Hale Caesar – Terry Crews
Tool – Mickey Rourke
Credits
A Lionsgate release presented with Millennium Films of a NuImage production.
Produced by Avi Lerner, John Thompson, Kevin King Templeton. Executive producers, Danny Dimbort, Boaz Davidson, Trevor Short, Les Weldon, Jon Feltheimer, Jason Constantine, Eda Kowan, Basil Iwanyk, Guymon Casady.
Co-producers, Robert Earl, Matt O’Toole.
Directed by Sylvester Stallone.
Screenplay, David Callaham, Stallone; story, Callaham.
Camera, Jeffrey Kimball.
Editors, Ken Blackwell, Paul Harb.
Music, Brian Tyler.
Production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; supervising art directors, Drew Boughton, Scott Plauche; art director, Andy Rhodes; set decorator, Bob Gould.
Sound, Paul Ledford; supervising sound editor, Christopher Eakins; re-recording mixers, Chris David, Gabriel J. Serrano.
Visual effects supervisor, Wes C. Caefer; visual effects, Worldwide FX.
Stunt coordinator, Chad Stahelski.
Associate producer, J. Celester Salzer.
Assistant director, Richard Fox.
Second unit director, Spiro Razatos; second unit camera, Matt Leonetti Sr.
Casting, Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood.
MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 104 Minutes