Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Syeve Austin, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writer(s): Dave Callahan, Sylvester Stallone
Cinematography: Jeffrey L. Kimball
Original Score: Brian Tyler
Running Time: 103 Mins.
It sounded like an action-film fan’s wet dream, Sylvester Stallone (currently enjoying a career revival of sorts thanks to Rocky and Ra,bo sequels that were actually quite good) decided to assemble a who’s who of action stars for what he pegged as the ultimate action film, so we have the old 80’s heavyweights (Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Lundgren, Rourke) alongside more recent action stars (Statham and Li) and a handful of newbies such as UFC’s Couture and the WWE’S Austin, heck if he’d manage to round-up Van-Damme and Seagal The Expendables really would have the whole set of action man top trumps. Alas minus those two this is no shabby line-up, in fact if you were a director of explosions and fisticuffs you could ask for little more, and deliver a lot.
Sadly Stallone squanders most of what he has for a film that doesn’t so much seem unsure as to what it wants to be, rather he just lazily gives us what most of these guys have done of late and give us a below-par action-adventure that would be better placed on the bottom shelf of your local blockbuster. Okay so this may seem a little unfair and yes it probably is better made than Lundgren and Austin’s last DTV efforts but Stallone while hardly a great director is capable of more, and you would have thought between them the cast could have found a little more chemistry than the feeble attempts that are mustered between Stallone/Statham, Stallone/Li, Stallone/Lundgren, Stallone/Rourke, notice a pattern, if this seems monotonous wait until you see the film.
Opening with a sequence aboard a boat there is no sense of time, place or what the hell is going on, badly lit it is only when after 10 minutes of shaky-cam we can make anything out that the realisation of what is happening kicks in, to a degree, for while Barney Ross’s (Stallone’s) crew is a group of mercenaries none of them seem to work as a unit or have any kind of camaraderie with one another, and worst of all they are not seen together again until the film 30 minutes bar a brief exposition at the midpoint. This leaves one of the years flimsiest of plots with plenty of time to spend getting to know characters individually, not necessarily a problem if your characters have chemistry or (fundamentally for an action film) something exciting to do, The Expendables has neither.
Stallone can act, this we know, but he looks bored here and bar a few quips with Statham his relationship’s with these men he supposedly relies upon as friends as well as colleagues is non-existent, and each scene serves to provide time with he and another member almost as if this were a set-up for a bigger adventure, which never comes. Statham is given a pointless and hugely clichéd (the order of the day here) subplot involving a girl, one of two token women with no characterisation again this would not prove to be a problem were there chemistry of characterisation elsewhere. One need only witness each and every scene with Jet Li featuring a line about his height to see how lacking and tired the script is, something which only seems to reach for something more in Rourke’s pivotal “acting” scene, it is to his credit that of all the cast he emerges as the most likeable alongside, more surprisingly perhaps, Lundgren as a renegade Expendable.
To its merit there is little drag during the relatively brief running time despite all the negatives which serves to prove that watching explosions and punch-ups really are like chewing gum for the eyes, but once the finale comes you might well crave some classic action especially after the film’s high-point, a geek pleasing exchange between Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis, three heavyweights who are capable of so much more than this bottom shelf fare.
The Expendables takes a hell of a lot of prime testosterone and squanders it into a messily directed selection of fights and explosions that are strung together with fruitless attempts at characterisation, something of a shame given the promise and hardly the searing action spectacle we hoped for.