The Expendables could give new meaning to the word disappointing, while few can argue that there is likely no parallel cast in an action film ever created, and imagine that it could’ve become more star-studded (at least according to reports) but that may have only made it more of a let down.
The fact of the matter is if you handed this cast to a Robert Rodriguez or a Quentin Tarantino they would’ve had an absolute field day and likely come up with a much more compelling plot line than this film ultimately churned out. While one of the things, for there are not a great deal, I admire about Stallone is that he has been the architect of his career for the most part writing and/or directing many of his films but this time it may have come back to bite him.
To start with only the explosions near the end, and upon their initial escape from their target, really live up to the kind of thing you expect to see. What was surprising and head scratching to see a lot of was lame, half-hearted attempts at character development and…gasp…male bonding.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll watch anything from a tear-jerker to a chick flick to foreign claymation but everything has its place and walking away from The Expendables I was reminded of the Family Guy cutaway in which Stallone and Schwarzenegger are in a Jane Austenesque Victorian love story. The male bonding elements would’ve been fine but they didn’t work. Jet Li’s character, Yin Yang (No, I am not making that up), repeats several times that he wants to take this job because he needs the money. When he finally starts to explain why we get lies and an unfinished conversation. Which is the most realistic scene of its kind, however, the answer never surfaces. Don’t go down the road of character development if you’re not actually going to build character through it. In a cast this big all that does is disambiguate him from the rest but not by much.
The one bit that does work is when Mickey Rourke is recollecting a traumatic experience in Bosnia but it only works because Rourke has the chops to pull it off. Now male bonding concerns aside the mission The Expendables are hired to perform is constantly minimized.
First, there is a great deal of indecision surrounding whether or not they want to bother doing it which takes up way too much screen time. Although it’s realistic, the fact that these mercenaries don’t really care about the situation makes a predictable outcome even less compelling.
The film separates tasks that could be accomplished simultaneously- again something other writer/directors would’ve loved, see names above. Through the siege, if it was longer, character could be built but the siege, aside from the one complication, was far too simple.
The complication is Sandra, played very well by Sandra Itié. She refused to leave the island and is trying to fight American influence off her fictitious island dictatorship and she also happens to be the daughter of the president. So a couple more unfortunate tidbits there. The film refreshingly starts with a job in an actual country, Somalia, but then proceeds to spend a bulk of its time festooning Brazil as the fictitious island nation of Vilena, an island where the head of state puts his visage on the flag something not even Kim Jong-Il has done…yet.
The one saving grace of the Barney Ross (Stallone)/Sandra relationship is that at the end they hug and it remains a friendship and more father/daughter rather than one of Woody Allen’s typical love interests but that is a minor victory.
Aside from balancing the cast which was an issue, Willis and Schwarzenegger were on for one scene, it was the same scene and Terry Crews is hardly a presence until the end, the last big hurdle the film didn’t quite clear is letting the action shine. For one reason or another this was another film that fell into the school of film where the cinematography doesn’t allow you to fully appreciate what’s happening in action sequences. It seems almost a waste to light these scenes so precisely just to end up with images that are borderline incoherent.
Luckily most of the time you can see faces and one thing Stallone does really well he repeats here and that is he will be on the brink of defeat in a fight, have it be convincing and come back strong, which adds a certain sense of reality to the situation and allows you to identify with him if he’s not exactly an unstoppable killing machine.
In the end the comedy, which is rather frequent and the action that we can see and appreciate do carry the movie through but only barely. It’s worth a gander but nowhere near the revolution of the genre that seemed promised. More often than not the workload was too split and you wondered if most of those on board really could carry the whole film alone if necessary. Stallone got by with a little help from his friends, to paraphrase the Beatles, but it shouldn’t have been that difficult to get there with all that star-power.
For more info: please visit the film’s official site. For tickets and showtimes please use Fandango.