It's '80s weekend at the movies.
Let’s travel back in time, shall we? Back to the era when macho dinosaurs such as Sly and Arnie and Bruce roamed the multiplexes putting The Big Hurt on baddies. Sky-high body counts, monstrous explosions, ultraheavy artillery ... Ah yes, we remember them well.
Hard to forget all of that, considering that those guys created the template for action movies of the last two decades and kept ladling up the mayhem in a seemingly endless string of “Rambo,” “Terminator” and “Die Hard” sequels. How could we miss them when they wouldn’t go away?
Well, they’re back again, the bunch of them. Gathered together by Stallone in “The Expendables,” which he co-wrote (with David Callaham) and directed. He’s created a testosterone cocktail, a self-conscious homage to his gory glory days that mixes members of the old guard with more contemporary practitioners of the smash-mouth arts such as Jason Statham, Jet Li and Steve Austin.
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And the result?
A movie that meets expectations in every last regard.
“The Expendables” is the least surprising movie of the year. With that director and that cast, we know exactly what we’ll be getting. And Stallone gives it to us. Good and hard.
Hard men regard one another with hard stares. Sardonic-bordering-on-moronic one-liners are dropped with metronomic regularity. Sly appears shirtless in one brief scene (he sure is fit for a 64-year-old). Extras die by the dozens. Lots of stuff blows up really, really good.
And of course a helicopter detonates in a humongous fireball. It wouldn’t be an action movie without that.
The story, such as it is, is merely a framework on which the gunfights and explosions are hung like ornaments on an overdecorated Christmas tree. Sly heads up a team of mercenaries whose specialty is suicide missions in which he and his lads routinely cheat the reaper while leaving landscapes strewn with corpses and smoking rubble in their wake.
After dispatching a gang of Somali pirates in the opening scene, cracking wise as they debate who gets to shoot which wrongdoer, they move on to a Caribbean island ruled by a tinpot tyrant whose main activity seems to be ordering up summary mass executions of his citizenry. Oh, and the dictator is also mobbed up with an American druglord played by a smirking Eric Roberts who intends to turn the island into a major cocaine hub. Clearly, these people need to be dealt with. And we know just the men who can do the required dealing.
Overkill is the name of the game here. It’s not enough for a bad guy to be shot multiple times. He also has to be skewered with an enormous sword as he’s being perforated with all that lead.
And when Stallone and Statham shoot up the local soldiery and barely escape with their lives in their personal flying boat, dodging about a million bullets as they do so, do they then fly, fly away to safety, grateful for their survival? Nah. Instead, they turn back for what will hereafter be referred to as The Gratuitous Strafing Scene (heavy on the fireballs). The scene makes no sense, but it does make for impressive pictures of flaming destruction.
As you might guess, character development is not high on Stallone’s agenda. Most of the characters relate to one another by trading one-liners. The bigger bruisers make fun of Jet Li’s short stature. A fight scene between Jet and the hulking Dolph Lundgren (reunited with Stallone for the first time since 1985’s “Rocky IV”) literally beats this running joke into the ground.
And the heavily hyped return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the big screen (which he sandwiched in among his official duties) is a silly cameo in which he and Stallone listlessly badmouth each other. “You lost weight,” Arnie observes. “You found it,” Sly replies. And in truth Arnie does look a little squashed and out of shape in the scene, as though his years in the California governor’s office have worn him down. Bruce Willis, another cameo, moderates the zingerfest.
The only actual acting comes courtesy of Mickey Rourke, who plays a philosophical tattoo artist. A scene in which he laments his misspent and now meaningless life is unexpectedly moving.
It’s a man’s world in “The Expendables,” with a couple of women on hand to be rescued by the guys, Actually, make that avenged by the guys. One woman beaten. The other is beaten and waterboarded. Their abuse supplies an excuse for additional episodes of whoop-ass.
The formula is tired and outdated, but Stallone’s direction is undeniably energetic. For a big dumb summer action movie, “The Expendables” certainly delivers the goods.
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Giselle Itie, Terry Crews, Eric Roberts
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Running time: 1:38
Rating: R; strong action and bloody violence throughout, language