Friday, September 10, 2010

"The Expendables" (2010)

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Jet Li
Written by David Callaham and Sylvester Stallone
Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Let's just... look at this cast for a moment:

Sylvester Stallone
Jason Statham
Jet Li
Dolph Lundgren
Mickey Rourke
Randy Couture
Steve Austin
Terry Crews
Bruce Willis
Arnold Schwarzenegger

If you can't find something to enjoy in a movie with all these people (even if most of them have minimal roles) then there's either A) something wrong with you or 2) the film is a massive failure in every way.

Luckily, "The Expendables" is not a massive failure.  It's certainly not a legendary action spectacular; in fact, it's actually pretty standard in many respects.  But with a cast like that, and with each of them at least getting a couple of really sweet action moments, "Expendables" gets to pack in a lot of fun in its runtime.  The last time I saw a cast this pumped, it was probably 1987's "Predator", which boasted names like Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura and Carl Weathers. 

Stallone stars as Barney, leader of a mercenary team known as the Expendables.  He's hired by a man who refers to himself as Church (Bruce Willis) to travel to a South American island nation called Vilena where a ruthless general, Garza (David Zayas) has usurped control of the government and rules now with an iron fist.  Barney takes his right hand man, Christmas (Jason Statham) on a recon mission to the island where they meet their contact, Sandra (Giselle Itie).

The trio is soon set upon by the general's guards, and Barney and Christmas decide to make a run for it, taking Sandra with them.  When they attempt to make their escape, however, Sandra refuses to leave her country just to save her own life.  Back in the US, Barney is troubled by having left Sandra there.  Meanwhile, Sandra is captured by the general's forces and tortured.  And the general gets a surprise visit from a former Expendable, Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), who is kicked off the team at the beginning of the film.  The general and his American ex-CIA drug kingpin partner James Monroe (Eric Roberts) hire Gunner to take out the Expendables.

After fending off Gunner and the other attackers, Barney and the team head back to Vilena to rescue Sandra and take out the general and Monroe.  The rest of the movie goes exactly how you might expect it to: fistfights, explosions, chases, and thousands of rounds of gunfire going off in a chaotic cacophony of violence.

The violence is where "The Expendables" soars.  The fights and chases are thrilling and fun, but the simple attempts at character development fall pretty flat (save for Mickey Rourke's character, a tattoo artist named Tool).  Jason Statham gets a subplot involving a girlfriend who seems to be abused by her new man.  When I say "subplot" I mean we actually only see her twice and he talks about her once more.  Sure, it's Charisma Carpenter (of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" fame) so she's smokin' hot, but she gets all of five or six lines in the entire movie so it all seems like a pretty big waste.  The other characters disappear for lengthy parts of the movie, leaving Stallone and Statham as the focus.  But they all get their moments in the spotlight.  Li gets to take on Lundgren, Crews is armed with a gun that literally rips men in half, etc.

But that violence... when it comes, you forget all about the fact that the characters are paper thin and the only thing that makes them likable is their easy chemistry with each other.  The fights in particular are pretty impressive, though they can get lost in all the shaky camera work.  The fight between Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren isn't long enough by far, but it's a total blast with the two of them using their strengths and weaknesses against each other.  Li is short (his character complains about being the shortest member of the team) and so he maneuvers Lundgren under a set of "low clearance" stairs.  Conversely, Lundgren gets the upper hand when he can pick up Li and throw him around in open spaces.  This is easily the best fight in the movie, and I was disappointed that it felt so short.  I could've watched these two pound on each other for ever.

The lengthy, massive action sequence that dominates the third act is all over the place.  Things are constantly exploding, there are several fights going on at once, and tons and tons of gunfire.  Stallone gets to take on "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in a pretty brutal fight while Statham and Li team up on Austin's sidekick, played by Gary Daniels.  Watching these two working together is pretty awesome, and again, I wish we got to see more of it.  This sequence is the bread and butter of action movies, where everything just gets to go full bore until the audience is left nearly dazed from all the craziness.

Ultimately, you know pretty much everything to expect from "The Expendables" and the movie has nothing in the way of surprises.  What it does have is some really badass action sequences (check out Statham popping out of a gun turret on the Expendables' plane) and some cheesy action-movie dialogue to keep things moving along.