A famous sketch
in the late, great Big Train sees the young Simon Pegg as a novice chef trying
his damnedest during a team meeting to use the phrase ‘Too many cooks spoil the
broth’ during a team meeting about the inverse proportionality of kitchen
personnel to dish quality. Unfortunately, said cliché is one we can’t help but
consider after watching nostalgic beefcake fest The Expendables. The film may
combine three decades of action stars but is more akin to a YouTube video
entitled ‘Best Action Ever!!!’ than a cohesive movie.
It’s a trait that’s inevitable from the opening credits as the names Sylvester
Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Steve Austin, etc, etc, hit the screen in bold metallic characters
and as the threadbare plot rolls on, it quickly becomes clear that each of
the big names is going to get at least one fight sequence. When they do, it’s everything you would
have expected – and that’s not necessarily a compliment. Statham takes down a
basketball court full of romantic rivals before delivering a homoerotic quip.
Li pirouettes his way through a fight with Lundgren (the former Rocky IV star as the predictable rogue Expendable).
Terry Crews is simply
handed a massive gun to blow a dastardly general’s henchmen to smithereens
while Stallone and Statham combine for a ridiculous yet enjoyable sequence
featuring a seaplane and a jetty of bad guys set alight from the air.
aficionados, the above probably sounds like manna from heaven. Stallone’s
grounding in the genre means the film’s direction comes alive in its
frenetic and brutal set-pieces and there are some average laughs to be had along the way. The best
jokes come in quickfire fashion, in fact, as Stallone shares the screen all too
briefly with his former Planet Hollywood partners Bruce Willis and Arnold
Schwarzenegger, and the chemistry is irresistable.
But for anyone who wants more from a movie than just ass-kicking heroes,
countless one-liners and a plot that smacks of ‘will this do?’, The
Expendables quickly becomes repetitive and pointless. At times it’s exactly the kind of
testosterone-fuelled adventure that Tropic Thunder lampooned and an impressive
and explosive final set-piece loses all its impact when it’s followed by three
or similar explosions, Randy Couture punching a flaming Steve Austin and
Statham appearing as if from nowhere – but also at the perfect time – to
deliver a fatal blow.
It’s an action film that has effectively packaged
itself as a kind of mainstream pornography, catering shamelessly to men’s supposed predilection
for guns, bikes, tattoos, Southern rock, busty blondes and hangin’ out with the
guys to deliver some good ol’ fashioned ultraviolence. For many audience
members that’ll be just enough and the nostalgia factor of Stallone, Bruce and
Arnie added to the appeal of their action heirs like Statham should see the
film easily recoup its budget and build enough of a fanbase to green light the
sequel foreshadowed in the closing credits.
But for viewers hoping for more than just a succession of violent fights
book-ended by macho back-and-forth, The Expendables is a film not worth the
ticket price. Having
waited the studio-enforced hours to file this review, it remains unclear just
what the film was about, why the ragtag dynamic were called the Expendables, who
they were really employed by, or why Statham was allowed to use his natural accent
while Lundgren delivered a strange mid-Atlantic drawl. In a cast packed with
beefcake stars incapable of enunciating a line, Mickey Rourke – with his Iron
Man 2 hair indicating he probably put just a few hours into The Expendables –
steals the show in one single scene, out-acting the ensemble in a deftly
delivered monologue, and it’s a shame his genuine talent couldn’t have been a
bigger part of the film.
At its heart, The Expendables is an affectionate homage to a bygone age and
one that does its job competently, with a knife-throw and a slick one-liner to seal the deal. But for
audiences uninterested in nostalgia or the strange lack of movement in
Sylvester Stallone’s face, The Expendables is as superfluous as the name