The Expendables

The Expendables


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

It looked so good on paper. Gather all the fading action stars from the Eighties and early Nineties, stick them together in an extravaganza that eschews CGI for old-school stunts and explosions and sit back as audiences soak up the testosterone-drenched nostalgia feast.

Sylvester Stallone plays Barney Ross, the leader and mastermind of mercenary group The Expendables. On his crew are Christmas (Jason Statham), a former SAS expert, Jet Li as combat specialist Yin Yang, Terry Crews as heavy weapons operator Hale Caesar, Randy Couture as demolition expert Toll Road, and Dolph Lundgren as the sniper Gunner Jensen. When not working, they hang around with Tool (Mickey Rourke) in his bike shop, getting tattoos, drinking, and talking about the old days.

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The action soon moves to Vilena, a fictitious Southern American territory, which looks and sounds amazingly like Cuba, run by a ruthless dictator - General Garza (David Zayas). The Expendables' CIA-funded mission is to take him out. But when Ross finds himself drawn to their contact on the island, the General's rebellious daughter, the mission becomes about more than just money.

Sadly, this pet project of action legend Stallone himself (he is credited as the co-writer, director and star) only offers us a shadowy glimpse, during just one scene, of the film it could have been. That scene is a five-minute comedic segment, where Stallone, Bruce Willis, and none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger gather together. The setting is a church, where Willis' shady and nameless CIA boss offers up a well-paid but suicidal mission to both Schwarzenegger’s arrogant Trench and Stallone's gruff Ross. With tongues firmly in cheek and clearly enjoying every minute, the three bicker with each other and skewer their own tough guy images. The moment both Schwarzenegger and Willis depart, with their cameos done, leaving Stallone to soldier on alone, the film deflates badly.

The fact that Willis and Schwarzenegger offer up only five minutes of their time is, in many ways, the death knell for The Expendables. Without them, Stallone has only Lundgren, Li and Statham as his immediate sidekicks. And none of them seem to be worthy of the title of action legends just yet: Statham and Li don't seem old enough and haven't had enough hits. Lundgren, though amazingly craggy and imposing here, was never in many classics of the genre either unless one counts his face off against Stallone in Rocky V. Mickey Rourke was never an 'action star' and simply drifts in and out of the film, never feeling part of anything significant. Filling the rest of the slots in The Expendables team are Couture and Crews, but they don't get anything to do except fire weapons. At least 60 per cent of the time, the dialogue uttered by the actors (or wrestlers) is totally unintelligible, or drowned out by gunfire.

The Expendables does deliver on its promise of plenty of bangs: bodies disintegrate under barrages of shotgun shells, there are at least 100 knife kills on screen, while Statham and Li, in particular, get to display impressive martial arts prowess in endless numbers of close quarter battles. There are car chases, strafing runs by planes, the destruction by tied explosives of a presidential palace - it is as if Stallone had a mighty checklist of combat scenarios he was contractually obliged to get through. Towards the end, during the final battle with the General's forces, the number of explosions quickly becomes uncountable. Yet frustratingly, the film doesn't deploy some of its key assets - Lundgren and Stallone, for example, despite their history from the Rocky films, do not exchange a single punch.

This is a giant, proud B-movie, the kind of movie that Hollywood doesn’t put into multiplexes much any more. If anyone other than Stallone was involved, it might have slid quietly onto DVD shelves. Had Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis headed up this film together as the top billing stars, the concept might have blossomed to the fullest.

Reviewed on: 07 Aug 2010
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A group of mercenaries is hired to overthrow a dictator.
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Director: Sylvester Stallone

Writer: Dave Callaham, Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, David Zayas, Giselle Itié, Charisma Carpenter, Gary Daniels, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, Hank Amos, Amin Joseph

Year: 2010

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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