Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Expendables

You are a fool if you watch The Expendables expecting to see award winning acting, a flawless script, highbrow entertainment, or a realistic portrayal of the mercenary lifestyle. The performances are typecasted, the action is over-exaggerated, and the movie is inherently flawed.

And it is great summer fun.

If you’re looking for big explosions, over-the-top gun play, car chases, and brutal brawling, you won’t find it in Eat Pray Love. The Expendables is perfectly geared toward the mindless escapism of summer blockbusters. It is a quick paced tour de force of action and nostalgia. The collection of former action headliners with modern action stars is the casting dream of genre fans. From the first peek at teasers and trailers, intelligent people everywhere knew that The Expendables was going to be a campy movie. Yet is the kind of film that forced itself into many must see lists despite its predictable banality.

The movie centers on Barney Ross (played by Stallone - who also wrote and directed), the leader of the titular mercenary crew. He and his gang of brutes are hired by Mr. Church (Bruce Willis in a short cameo) to assassinate the dictator of a fictional island nation in South America. After a trip to the island turns dangerous, Ross declines the job. Thankfully, Ross has a heart to heart man-talk with a former Expendable, Tool (Mickey Rourke – who gives the film the closest resemblance of genuine acting) sowing some seeds of discontent in Ross’s brawny mercenary heart. He’s convinced to return to the island alone to save the girl. After being betrayed by another former team member, Gunner (Dolph Lundgren – who still can’t act) Ross boards his plane to find the rest of the team waiting.

The remaining scenes devolve into a predictable string of gunfire, fists, and massive explosions. I hate to spoil the plot, but everybody dies except the heroes. If that is a surprise to you, you’ve been living in a cave for the last 30 years.

Stallone’s script is filled with foreshadowing, but not the clever hints that something might happen. It’s the blatant we’re eliminating any possibility of a plot twist kind of foreshadow. The final product that we see on screen has been parsed with several cuts and last minute revisions. By the end of the movie, I couldn’t help but notice that something was missing. Entire scenes were noticeably deleted or never shot (most obvious is the absent passage from switching the team’s plane into auto-pilot to their arrival outside the dictator’s palace). And the acting is atrocious - but with a former NFL player, former MMA fighter, former pro-wrestler, and the aforementioned Lundgren…. Shoddy acting is to be expected.

The movie wasn’t all bad. There were several fantastic one-liners (especially a cheap-shot at the governator after Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character exits the church meeting with Stallone and Willis). Jason Statham and Jet Li both submit captivating performances. Li’s talk about being short is one of the funniest bits of dialog in the film. The fight sequences are choreographed with expert skill. And the action is paced quick enough to keep you entertained.

My father-in-law gave it a 2 and a half rating. I give it three out of five. And while I did enjoy the movie, I can’t help but think of the many ways that it could have been better.

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