“The Expendables” scratches the itch action movie fans have had since the ’80s drew to a close.
It’s as loud, dumb and exhilarating as one could imagine, an adventure starring actors who think if they pump enough iron they can find the Fountain of Youth.
For 90 or so minutes, they’re absolutely right.
This ode to Reagan-era carnage rounds up the usual suspects – Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger to name a few – but it’s very much a film of our age thanks to its rapid fire editing.
Stallone stars as Barney, the head of a loose-knit band of mercenaries dubbed the Expendables according to their tatted-up bodies. The film starts with Barney’s band breaking into a Somali pirate camp and decimating them until only an eye patch or two remains.
But one Expendable takes the gig too seriously. Gunner (Lundgren) loses his cool in the melee and is forced out of the team.
That matters when the Expendables are hired by a mystery man (Willis) to take down a Latin American dictator whose strings are being pulled by a rogue CIA agent (Eric Roberts).
The mercenaries spring into action, but Barney gets sidetracked when he meets the dictator’s comely daughter (Giselle Itie) and deals with a traitor in his midst.
Explosions, chaos and shattered skulls fill in the story gaps, and there’s plenty of the latter. Stallone, who directed this muscular mess, knows how to stage a viscerally thrilling sequence but gives far less attention to continuity and character development.
The only Expendable with a back story is Jason Statham, and the youngest member of the E-Team also gets to show off the most physical skill. The bulky actor remains a double threat, an imposing brute who can handle dialogue without making audiences blush in embarrassment.
The story teases us with an “Unforgiven”-style morality check thanks to a bizarro turn by Mickey Rourke, but the screenplay doesn’t have time to give it much more than lip service. Who needs nuance when there’s bones to pound into dust?
The film’s starry cast can be misleading. Willis and Schwarzenegger appear in only one scene, an ‘80s class reunion moment played for wink-wink laughs. But it’s a shame the script didn’t dig deeper into those self-aware asides. Anything would have been better than the forced chuckles the screenplay pursues.
It’s a blast all the same, so long as the action keeps moving. Thankfully, it rarely stops.
The faceless enemy in “The Expendables” is treated like Cuisinart fodder, with limbs, arms – even whole bodies exploding into the ether.
Yet there’s something comforting to this band of cinematic mercenaries … the sense that you’re safe and the bad guys aren’t so long as Stallone and co. are in charge.