McGinnis: ‘Expendables’ deliversWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
You already know if you want to see “The Expendables,” so let’s get this out of the way: Yes, it does exactly what it promises it will. Here is the most gleefully over-the-top action movie in many a moon. A tribute to a bygone era of big, dumb shoot ’em ups, its mission is to be the biggest and dumbest of them all. If you have even a shred of nostalgia for these kind of movies, it’s impossible to watch without a big, silly grin on your face.
The movie is the brainchild of Sylvester Stallone, who co-wrote and directed. His recent career resurgence was fueled by revisiting his most famous franchises, “Rocky” and “Rambo.” Here, he instead revisits a whole genre he helped create, where heroes crack wise while killing bad guys, where one man can easily take down a hundred armed with machine guns, where the feisty and beautiful woman must be saved and where all must end with the biggest explosion possible.
The plot? Who cares? Are you honestly going to see “The Expendables” for its story? It’s all the slimmest of excuses to have a bunch of fighting and gunplay. Oh, okay, if you must know something, Stallone plays the head of a group of mercenaries hired to kill the tyrannical head of a tropical nation called, oh, let’s call it the Isle of MacGuffin. Stallone is sent off on this mission by a shadowy figure played by Bruce Willis, and their meeting is interrupted by the Governator himself. Don’t let the ads fool you, this is the only time Schwarzenegger and Willis appear, but still, the cameos are fun.
Upon their arrival on the Isle of MacGuffin, Stallone and partner Jason Statham are aided by the beautiful daughter of the dictator (Giselle Itie), who might as well be wearing a “Hi, I’m the Damsel in Distress” name tag. There, they learn that the real big baddie is an American (Eric Roberts — yes, Eric Roberts), whose will is imposed by a steel-eyed thug actually named “Payne” (Steve Austin — yes, THAT Steve Austin). Stallone and company must kill them to set the people yadda yadda blow stuff up.
Each member of the Expendables is given easily identifiable character traits. Stallone is the fastest shooter alive. Statham likes to use knives. Jet Li complains that he should be paid more because he’s smaller. Randy Couture has a hang-up about his cauliflowered ear and is going to therapy. Dolph Lundgren is the loose cannon. And Terry Crews likes big guns. Really, really big guns. (Crews’s character is named “Hale Caesar,” which may have been the most awesome action hero name in the history of mankind, if Couture’s “Toll Road” wasn’t in the same movie.)
You know how you hear a film described as “non-stop action?” This one is as close as I’ve ever seen. The movie rarely slows down for a breath from the opening scenes. Every so often it pauses just long enough to pretend it has a plot, then gets going again. Even Statham’s romantic subplot is resolved with a big fight. Much of the exposition is given in a tattoo parlor owned by Mickey Rourke, who gets the movie’s lone memorable monologue. Then again, who really wants to hear any of the rest of this cast say anything beyond glib one-liners shouted over a sub-machine gun?
The action scenes are as preposterous yet entertaining as you can imagine. Stallone is actually quite capable as a director, especially when it comes to the kind of exciting set pieces this film relishes. There are fist fights, chase scenes, shoot outs, exploding buildings, rivers of flame, betrayals, even a climactic battle between Couture and Austin that will make any wrestling/MMA fan roar with delight.
This summer has been filled with a lot of very overblown movies which are technically competent but rarely entertaining. The past few years have seen a rise in the number genuinely intelligent thrillers being made, and that’s wonderful. But there is something to be said for a movie like this, which has no illusions and wants to do nothing more than give its audience a fun and exciting ride for a few hours. “The Expendables” does this, and does it well. You won’t care about it five minutes after you’ve left, but while you’re watching it, you’ll have a ball.
E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.