For better and worse, “The Expendables” is pure Sly Stallone.
In most all male-centric genres of film, crossovers are something people want to see. King Kong Vs. Godzilla. Freddy Vs. Jason. Bourne Vs. Bond.
And who better than Stallone to do the radio-station version of the action hero mashup (your favorites from the 80s, 90s, and today!)?
Here’s Sly’s problem, though: he’s a wannabe fanboy who thinks because fanboys worship him he knows how to give them what they want. What he typically delivers, though, is tripe that has some of the features the geeks clamor for, but has a bunch of filler garbage in between.
And again, I give you “The Expendables.”
Stallone is officially the Eli Roth of action films, creating a subgenre in his respective genre. But rather than fetishistic gorefests where victims are tortured incessantly, Sly makes fetishistic gorefests where the good guys blow stuff up on an unprecedented scale.
Call it “Testosterporn.”
And man do things go boom, from buildings to jeeps to helicopters to vertebrae. And many of those booms are entertaining in that ooh-look-at-the-pretty-colors way they sometimes are in vapid action flicks, but it’s okay given what we’re working with.
The story is as made-for-popcorn-cinema as they come. Basically Sly runs a team of mercenaries who go to some small island, find bad guys hassling the peasantry, and lay waste to the villains by letting their guns do all the talking.
Of course, the much ballyhooed meet-cute of action stars would carry a bit more weight if the Arnie-Sly-Willis threesome wasn’t so cursory and truncated. It’s basically one scene, with Schwarzenegger’s bit especially worthless, essentially three lines and a throwaway joke that doesn’t even fit within the context of the film.
From there Stallone is hanging with the b-listers, including Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Mickey Rourke (is he even an action star?), and Eric Roberts. Have all of those guys combined done the box office that one of the megastars have?
I do feel I’m being a little harsh on the film, because it certainly has some enjoyable moments. The final battle contains two or three smaller fights that are terrific, highlighted by Stallone vs. Austin, Li vs. a secondary thug, and Crews (and his ungodly huge gun) vs. most everyone else. I am, however, tiring of complaining about the ridiculous use of CG blood effects in horror and action films, so I’ll not do that here.
Notice I’m completely ignoring the ridiculous names Sly gave to his actors. He’s Barney, Li is Yin Yang, Couture is Toll Road (are you kidding?) and Crewes is Hale Caesar. Does he think that’s clever in the least?
My thought is yes, which brings me back to Stallone’s writing. It’s atrocious, with quips that the Marx Brothers would call cornball and outdated. The structure is horrific, and it’s just flat bad.
But again, we’re not here to see that stuff, so I’ll try not to dwell on it so much.
Bottom line: as boomfests go, this one is startlingly average.