The Expend4bles


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Expend4bles
"Tired, bloated, crude, stumbling, and showing its age, Expendables as a franchise is perhaps a reflection of some of its cast."

The fourth film in the Expendables franchise is rated 15, but viewers should be advised that this is less an age limit as floor than as ceiling. With humour that would need a dash more maturity to reach puerile, its comedy includes jewellery displays, multiple references to urination, and genital warts. All of these, to a certain extent, are dependent upon the phallic, as are comparisons of gestural insults between Asia and the US. The preponderance of the penile is ironically pubertal given how many of the cast are past andropause.

The characters played by this touring cavalcade of washed up action stars do have names, but I couldn't have told you without prompting that Jason Statham's guy goes by 'Christmas'. I might have remembered that Sylvester Stallone (three time Oscar nominee) plays a guy called Barney but I'd have had to fight to recall it. Dolph Lundgren returns as Gunner, and I genuinely don't know how uncomfortable a clumsy alcoholism feature is meant to be. I'd say subplot but it's resolved at a level that would disgrace a text adventure videogame. Use hipflask. Hit target. Potentially comedically, if not morally. Randy Couture returns as Toll Road, and his broad shoulders heroically carry a weight of exposition.

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Expendables often injects "new blood," though whether it's the succour of the undead or the desperate rejuvenation of the wealthy afeared of death is unclear. Megan Fox joins the cast, and while she's been in action pictures before, including 2020's Rogue she doesn't seem entirely comfortable here. Some of that might be because her 'character' is both love interest and foil to Statham's Christmas, including a scene with fighting as foreplay whose aftermath relies on a strategically placed fan blade and a purple lace negligee to preserve modesty. Perhaps not modesty, in fact, but that age rating. The vagaries and sensibilities means that a silicone replica of an improbable appendage and a severed arm are less likely to offend than actual breasts, one assumes. At least ones not covered, George Lucas might have said there are no bras in space but Carrie Fisher's relationships with her directors were somehow healthier than those of Megan Fox. Though there's plenty of other places where everything goes tits-up.

Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson appears as 'Easy Day'. That's based on a Navy SEAL motto, "the only easy day was yesterday," one of several bits of United States Special Operations Command jargon that is strewn about the script as a substitute for realism. "Squirters" for hostiles escaping the perimeter of an operation is genuine, and one assumes it's from that because there's little other sense that this film believes in female pleasure. Levy Tran joins as Lash, not just because of mascara but also some sort of segmented martial arts chain whip thing. Iko Uwais as main bad guy Rahmat is equipped with some sort of special stabbing batons, while Jacob Scipio's Galan is perhaps best equipped with a rapier wit.

I'm leaving folk out. Andy Garcia turns up as one of the franchise's many somewhat shady men in suits. Tony Jaa turns up with a magical boat. It's not ostensibly magical, but all the transport distances are improbable to the point of lunacy. Maybe it's the full moon. The team have time to bond in New Orleans before arriving at a siege at a Libyan chemical weapons facility that might have been an asynchronous bit of in media res but feels like a fundamental misunderstanding of time zones. That magical boat makes it from somewhere labelled Thailand to somewhere labelled as near Vladivostok in the course of a single evening. That's four seas of the seven, and maybe a gulf between them. That fantastic navigation includes a rope slide between it and a cargo vessel that is so artificial in its execution that it feels like it's been taken from a Wes Anderson film.

Weird details abound. That chemical weapons installation looks like it's got a Pittsburgh Steelers logo on it. There's a bar fight in a biker joint that serves to set up a tactical gambit used later, which almost makes sense but the escalation within and between them is chaotic. There's a secret baddie code-named Ocelot, which feels like it's cribbed from the Metal Gear Solid videogame franchise. There's even what amounts to a tontine, but death dependent declassification isn't a novelty. I was reminded for various reasons of The Losers, but despite being based on a comic book that felt significantly less cartoonish. I'll complain briefly about the quality of one of the disguises: it's the wrong kind of flight deck and the wrong kind of aircraft. Another bit of deception isn't so much misdirection as murder, but the moral questions around a paramilitary mercenary group who don't so much operate off the books as in an age before writing render much of that moot.

Writing duties here are split. I've a rule of thumb about the quality of a script being inversely proportionate to the number of those credited, and Expend-four-bulls doesn't argue the counter. With a "characters" credit for original scribe Dave Callaham set to one side, we've got two sets of three with some doubling up. Max Adams penned part of the adaptation of Navy SEAL revenge-a-like The Terminal List, perhaps most notable for being yet another occasion that Chris Pratt has played one. Spenser Cohen wrote Moonfall, but this might actually be less realistic in places. Tad Daggerhart previously wrote Black Lotus, a star vehicle for kickboxer Nico Verhoeven (no relation). The veteran among them is Kurt Wimmer, who wrote and directed the sublime Equilibrium and with everything he's touched since has suggested that was more a question of luck than judgement. After Law Abiding Citizen and Salt he had a bit of a hiatus before the readaptation of Total Recall and the remake Point Break. He had even longer off before dusting off Children Of The Corn for another shot. If four-spendables is another franchise he's helped to nightmarishly re-animate then he's got form.

I don't know which of them to credit for something approaching satire where Jason Statham's gruff fighting type guy beats up a social media influencer for disrespecting women, but the irony is more palpable than reoccurring knuckledusters. I'm not entirely convinced about the wisdom of a mercenary with a reputation for clandestine work appearing in a livestream even before it becomes a viral video, and I'm even less convinced that the job posting would be in a classified column in a newspaper. This is in a film that features strippers in an establishment called the 'Tainted Spoke,' a phrase that, perhaps like much of its clientele, doesn't feel like it's a thing that stands alone but an accident between sentences.

Tired, bloated, crude, stumbling, and showing its age, Expendables as a franchise is perhaps a reflection of some of its cast. The decision as to whether you'll see it has probably been made on the basis of the poster. That and the trailer, which contains some of the better things that pass for jokes. If you're tracking down a franchise film with some big names that could be 'straight to video' you'd be better with Universal Soldier: Regeneration and its even more compelling sequel Day Of Reckoning. Stallone talks about the genesis of The Expendables being those rock & roll revue or Motown revival shows where the surviving members of a band and the one who's got the name and those three who invested poorly in real estate all do half an hour of the hits they've got the rights to. You wouldn't go and see any of them individually, but together it seems worthwhile. At this fourth outing even that seems uncertain.

Reviewed on: 22 Sep 2023
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The Expend4bles packshot
Armed with every weapon they can get their hands on, the Expendables are the world's last line of defence and the team that gets called when all other options are off the table.
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Director: Scott Waugh

Writer: Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, Max Adams

Starring: Jason Statham, 50 Cent, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Andy Garcia, Sylvester Stallone

Year: 2023

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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