Monday, August 16, 2010

Movie Review: "The Expendables"

It's official. Audiences are more interested in explosions than middle-aged women on journeys of self-discovery.

Finally, we have our priorities straight.

There has been a lot of hype leading up to Sylvester Stallone's latest testosterone laden film orgy of gun-fire and fist-fights, but it was never a sure thing that a film populated with ageing action heroes was going to pull in the crowds-- but pull 'em in it did even as it was critically savaged in some corners.

But 80's-style action flicks have never had to be about things like acting, plausibility or good scripts-- it's the carnage that counts.

The Expendables is an ensemble film littered with 40+ year-old action stars (the sole exception being Jason Statham) starring as a band of mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone). The movie opens with a wild action sequence between The Expendables and a group of Somali pirates that lets us know right off the bat that we're in for an hour and half of exploding body parts. Right after they return from their mission they are approached by a mysterious CIA operative who goes by the name Church (Bruce Willis in full-snark mode) who wants to hire them to take out a tin-pot dictator in the fictional South American country of Vilena.

Barney and Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) set off to Vilena to do some reconnaissance and meet a mysterious woman named Sandra (Gisele ItiƩ) who turns out to be the daughter of the man they've been hired to remove from power. Things quickly spin out of control and Barney and Lee are forced to flee the island, though Sandra stays behind despite the urging of the two men to leave with them.

Barney tells the team that the mission is too dangerous to accept and decides to turn down Church's offer. But he can't completely walk away from Sandra and decides to go back to Vilena on his own to rescue her. Predictably the rest of The Expendables tell Barney they're going with him and they all fly off to rescue the girl.

The plain fact is that a plot was only a secondary consideration in "The Expendables." Clearly the main point was to cram as many old-school, craggy-faced bad asses as one could into a film that's all about the violent catharsis of beating up the school-yard bully. Eric Roberts takes the role of lead bully as the snarling, suited villain James Munroe-- the real power behind the throne in Vilena. A rogue CIA operative himself, Munroe has his own gang of buffed bodyguards, including Steve Austin (appropriately known as Dan Paine) and Dolph Lundgren, who stars as a disgruntled former member of The Expendables-- a sniper named Gunnar-- who feeds information to Munroe about the team.

It's also a fact that the acting is spotty at best thanks to the fact that many of the stars have stronger fighting credentials and little in the way of acting chops; though it should be noted that the dialog would probably defeat most who tried to take a crack at it. But Stallone and Statham have great chemistry and with Mickey Rourke on board to steal a scene or two, "The Expendables" bumps along between high octane knife fights and copious explosions. It's hard to dislike "The Expendables" because it never pretended to be anything other than what it is-- a movie for men in full-tilt guy mode. It's straight-up B-movie fare with action that manages to somehow be both violent and cheesy. Most of the plot is simply scenes that are loosely tied together as set-ups and justifications for the next bloody confrontation. But still, seeing someone get what they have coming to them just never gets old and we get a lot of vicarious thrills on this ride.

Stallone is still credible as a fighter at 64, his face is appropriately beat-up looking to suit the role of a career mercenary and I enjoyed his understated portrayal at Barney. But it's Jason Statham who really stands out as the resident tough guy here-- he's compelling no matter what he does and he definitely steals every scene he's in. Jet Li, Randy Couture and Terry Crews all have their moments, but Statham is very much the star of the show.

"The Expendables" is one of those films that ignores the critics and panders to its audience-- with great success. Word is Stallone is already planning a sequel. I happen to be glad that a film like this can do well. It's not high-brow cinema, it's just fun. And a lot more interesting to me than the navel gazing going on in the theater next door with "Eat, Pray, Love." And, surprisingly, I'm not alone. Rumor has it 40% of the opening weekend audience for "The Expendables" was female.

I don't know what that means, but it makes me irrationally happy.


Charles Gramlich said...

That's interesting about the female audience. cool.

SQT said...

I know! We went to an early showing, so there wasn't a big audience yet. But it had a fair number of women there. Sometimes I miss unambiguous good guy vs. bad guy movies. There's nothing ambiguous about this one.

Christian Toto said...

Agree ... the film delivered where it counts. I suspect the franchise-to-be could be pretty interchangeable in future installments. Part 2 could drop Dolph and add Jean Claude, or even Seagal.

And Statham remains the real deal, a bruiser who can act and carry a scene. I thought Stallone slept through much of it. I think he realizes when he needs to turn on the acting chops ... and when it's not nearly as important to strain himself.

SQT said...

@Christian-- It never fails to shock me that Statham isn't used more in mainstream movies and not just in action flicks like "The Transporter." I don't know anyone that doesn't like the guy-- and he is a good actor.

Daelith said...

I much prefer an action movie over a chick flick. Hubby and I are going to try to catch this one this weekend.

Ohara said...

I have been so looking forward to this movie. I wrote about it a couple months before the release. Unfortunately the reviews have not been the greatest so I have not rushed out to see it. Maybe this week.