x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The Expendables

The Expendables is overblown with tedious triumphalism and dreary, macho dialogue.

The Expendables
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham
*

The Expendables don't so much hit the ground running as lurk in the shadows, intervening at the very last moment before wiping out the enemy, barely breaking a sweat, then pumping their fists caveman-style at their oh-so-surprising victory. Written by Sylvester Stallone, directed by Sylvester Stallone and starring Sylvester Stallone, this is about as testosterone-fuelled and ludicrous a movie as you could expect.

Replacing brain (of which there probably wasn't much to begin with) with plenty of brawn, the only redeemable feature of The Expendables is that it is under no qualms as to its position in Hollywood: the king of the no-brainer, all-guns-blazing, proper man's-man film.

And if you ever wanted to know what happened to the gung-ho action stars of the 1980s and 1990s, look no further. All well past their sell-by dates - aside from Jason Statham, who still has a couple of popcorn action roles in him yet - his crew look more like a bunch of pensioners than they do a near indestructible team of contract killers.

Setting the tone of the film, the first scene sees the lean, mean, and over-the-hill fighting machines rescue a group of hostages moments before they are to be executed by a mob of Somali pirates. Facing off to the hostage takers momentarily (because where is the fun in indulging in plenty of killing unless one makes one's presence known beforehand?), Barney Ross (Stallone) and his men waste no time in wiping the floor clean with their enemy. Ever wanted to know what a man literally getting blown off his feet looks like? Or been curious as to whether or not someone could kill all the bad guys with pinpoint accuracy despite having his view obliterated by a smoke bomb? Stallone does not so much suspend disbelief here as drive a bulldozer through it while pumping his fist in triumphalist glee.

Task complete, the mercenaries return home, to New Orleans, to await their next job, but not before cutting loose their beefed-up sniper, Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), whose substance abuse has led to his going off the rails. Fans of the statuesque Swede need not worry, however, as Jensen makes another appearance later.

It's at this point, during the team's downtime, that the film introduces Mickey Rourke's oddball character, Tool, their tattoo-clad, stetson-wearing mission co-ordinator. But aside from challenging the active members of the Expendables to play darts, replacing the traditional arrows with blades, Tool is as underused as almost all the other cast members.

It's easy to see why the main focus of the film is on the characters of Ross and Lee Christmas (Statham): they are obviously considered the most likely to draw in cinema audiences.

The next scene is notable only for its cameo appearance by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California at the time, who was apparently begged by Stallone to reconsider his retirement from acting for the two-minute role as Mauser, Ross's former friend and fellow mercenary, now business rival. The two of them are summoned to a meeting with a mysterious gentleman by the name of "Mr Church" (Bruce Willis, also in a cameo).

Any excitement at seeing the Terminator back on screen is short-lived, however. The dialogue between the trio is shockingly bad - even for a movie that sets the bar so low. (Ross: "You want him gone?" Church: "We want him dead"). Throw in an unsubtle and entirely unamusing reference to Schwarzenegger's political career, and a war of words between Ross and Mauser that a child would turn its nose up at, and the scene falls flat on its face. As for the job, it's more complicated than it looks - but aren't they always? The biggest expendable in this macho cocktail is, unfortunately, the film itself.