There’s something embarrassing about older men who dress and act like guys half their age. And that applies to most of the cast in Sylvester Stallone’s “The Expendables,” a ludicrous action flick that, apart from its very graphic violence, might have been made thirty years ago—and would seem right at home in the 2am slot on ShowTime.
That violence—exploding bodies and great spurts of blood—is a carryover from Stallone’s grisly “Rambo” reboot, and represents the only modern aspect of the picture, which otherwise is almost ridiculously old-fashioned. It’s about a kind of grade-Z A-team, roughneck mercenaries headed by burly Barney Ross (Stallone). The other members of his crew are his stalwart younger Brit bud Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), small but dexterously deadly Yin Yang (Jet Li), martial arts hunk Toll Road (Randy Couture), exuberant Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and wild-man Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren). The group congregates between jobs at the Los Angeles garage of tattoo artist and dimestore philosopher Tool (Mickey Rourke).
We first meet the guys as they free a bunch of hostages from what appears to be a gang of Somali pirates by offing the bad-guys. In the course of the gun battle, though, Jensen goes berserk, and Ross has to cut him loose. Shortly after their return home—an interval during which Lee finds his girlfriend (Charisma Carpenter) living with another man, whom he beats up for hurting her—Barney is approached by a mysterious fellow (Bruce Willis) to take on General Garza (David Zayas), the dictator of some island off the coast of Latin America. The place has been turned into a drug capital by Garza’s American patron Munroe (Eric Robert), a sleazy ex-CIA man with his own mercenary gang—the aptly-named Paine (Steve Austin), another British hunk (Gary Daniels), and the island’s entire military force. Barney and Christmas go down to the island to scope out the situation, and while they escape—in a blaze of destruction, of course—they have to leave behind the general’s rebellious daughter Sandra (Giselle Itie). And despite his doubts about the viability of the mission, Ross decides to return and save her—on his own. Naturally his buddies all opt to support him, except for Jensen, who betrays his old crew and joins up with Munroe.
The bulk of the picture consists of their predictably bloody and violent mini-war against Munroe and his minions, marked by lots of bruising hand-to-hand fights, gun battles, explosions and other exhibitions of mayhem, many of them incredibly prolonged (like one Stallone stages between Lundgren and Li). There are interruptions between the action scenes, of course—dialogue so ripe and ridiculous that it would be rejected in any respectable introductory screenwriting class, and delivered as badly as one would expect of this cast. (Just listen to any of Roberts’ snarling, or the hilarious pseudo-profound monologue about the importance of good choices that’s Rourke’s big moment.) But the whole point of “The Expendables,” as was the case with the recent “Rambo,” lies in blowing things up, including not just buildings but plenty of bodies.
The picture would have benefited enormously from a sense of humor, but apart from some over-the-top macho goofiness there isn’t much here, unless one counts the irony involved in having a fellow nicknamed Stone Cold get turned into a crispy critter. One must except, I suppose, the obvious gag involved in a joint cameo by Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who briefly appears as Ross’s rival mercenary honcho, a guy who turns down Willis’ offer as being too dangerous. Willis and Schwarzenegger are onscreen, it has to be said, for only a minute or so—and Schwarzenegger looks as glace as Stallone and Rourke—but at least the moment shows a little of the self-deprecation that the rest of the movie lacks.
It could have used a lot more, since there’s so much here to deprecate.