Review: The Expendables

Stallone, Li, Couture, Crews and Statham in The Expendables

Crack! Bam! Pow! You’re dead buster!

The Expendables (R)

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Eric Roberts, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Gisele Itié, Charisma Carpenter and Mickey Rourke

Rating: ***

The Expendables can be well defined as a gruesome action film. It has the necessary blood, bones and deaths to make it one of the best action films in recent times. However, the recycled story is a letdown. We’ve seen The A-Team, The Losers and now The Expendables. Although the former two are different from the latter in terms of plot, it’s the ensemble action entertainer tagline which makes them fly under the same sky. The Expendables much like the other two films, is a pseudonym for a group of mercenaries who do things, the government cannot. Leading them is Barney Ross (Stallone), who seems to teach his fellow actors like Statham and Li, a few lessons in manly action, like beheading a soldier with a huge knife, or how to create a blood waterfall by stabbing another soldier below the throat. The pity is that I was reminded of Antony Minghella’s The English Patient, where Ralph Fiennes makes a reference to that part of the body.

Stallone can be described as a director who gives everyone their own space but doesn’t allow them to encroach in his. Statham has his own action piece in the basketball court. Li and Lundgren fight it out in a warehouse. Couture and Austin, two professional wrestlers, fight it out while trapped in a ring of fire. If Stallone and Lundgren fought, it could have been a classy Rocky IV revival. However, Stallone fights less and shoots more. The typical gunslinger isn’t he. As John Rambo, he blew up a sporting goods store with an M60, as Barney Ross, he blows up bodies into red sausages. There is often place for humor and drama in action sagas, and in The Expendables, it is Mickey Rourke who helms the hat for projecting uncanny humor and tearless drama. Why oh why was a dramatic sequence included in this kill, kill, kill film? Rourke recounts his Bosnian War experience, holding tears in his eyes, and playing it easy for Stallone to get back on track. Rourke also provides humor in that humor-intended scene where he talks about tattooing a Charlotte’s Web on Statham’s head.

Gisele Itié tries to impress us with her native looks, but, lacks the charm. I’d consider that as a bad casting call. Charisma Carpenter, at the same time, underplays in her two-scene appearance as Statham’s unsteady girlfriend. Stallone is a gifted writer who makes big impacts out of small issues. Rocky and First Blood were created in such a manner. In this film, the opening action piece takes Somali Pirates as the victims of bloodshed.

Between kinetic displays of knife-throwing, Statham excels by showing mischievous humor. He introduces himself and Barney as Buda and Pest. There are also many references made in the film, which reflect one’s character. In the scene where the three eternal action heroes of the 80s come together, Schwarzenegger hands over the mission to Stallone saying “He likes to spend time in the jungle.” Lundgren sarcastically calls Li “Happy Feet” due to his short stature. The funniest reference comes when Stallone mentions to Willis about Schwarzenegger’s attitude “He wants to be president.”

Fuelled with action, The Expendables is an old school action reverie. For me, it felt like going to a restaurant I frequented during my childhood, only to find that the it wasn’t the same again. However, Stallone serves a dessert in the form of a closing sequence where the action heroes ride off in their respective bikes and choppers as Thin Lizzy’s The Boys are Back in Town plays in the background. Well, let’s just hope for a better sequel.

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