The Expendables (Sylvester Stallone, 2010)
Ten minutes into The Expendables things had already gotten so unbelievable that I asked myself why I was watching this low-rent-but-all-star take on one of my all-time favorite movies, The Dogs of War. But that very unbelievability made it stupidly entertaining enough that I kept going and discovered the movie’s few treasures, though most of it is exactly the kind of mindless, predictable action-comedy that I figured I was getting when I went in.
That unbelievable opening scene involves our group of Expendables—Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), and Toll Road (Randy Couture)—rescuing a bunch of hostages from Somalian pirates (led by The Mist‘s Amin Joseph). The ridiculousness comes from all the bullets flying around and not a single civilian casualty. Amazing how that works! Afterwards, there’s a brief scuffle between Yang and the less-ethical Jensen. Jensen departs the group, who are soon after hired by a nameless guy calling himself Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) who wants a Central American dictator, General Garza (Dexter‘s David Zayas), overthrown, and is willing to offer the job to either Barney’s bunch or another band of mercenaries led by Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first screen appearance since 2004, albeit in a cameo). Barney and co. get the job and head off to meet their in-country contact, Sandra (On the Road‘s Giselle Itié), and get to overthrowin’. Problem is, the General is both backed by a guy who may or may not be a CIA operative (The Dark Knight‘s Eric Roberts) and surrounded by mercenaries himself, ruled by the sadistic Paine (Steve Austin)… and including Jensen, who was with the group long enough to be able to anticipate most of Barney’s moves.
You will most likely be able to map out the way the entire movie unfolds by the end of the scene with Willis, Stallone, and Schwarzie. Which, as long as you’re looking for a brainless action movie, is perfectly okay—but with so many obvious references to the single greatest action movie ever created combined with so many big-huge-massive-name action stars, and I am perfectly willing to admit this may be my problem and not the movie’s, I was expecting something more than I got, something like that life-shattering twist where Christopher Walken marches into the new dictator’s office as if he’s simply going to demand the money he’s owed and… does what he does that leaves your jaw sitting on the floor in a drool pool. Or, you know, even a halfway intelligent script that didn’t sacrifice brains for one-liners every chance it got. (And this is where those “few treasures” come in—all of them involve Tool’s Bar, where the gang hangs out during downtime; Tool, played by Mickey Rourke, is kind of the group’s Yoda, and he is easily the best thing about the film.) But if you take it for what it is, it fulfills its role adequately. ** ½