Movie Review: The Expendables- A Childish and Amateur Script That is Filled with as Much Pulse Pounding Guiltily Pleasurable Over the Top Violence

Anyone who had the exhausting pleasure of sitting through Sylvester Stallone’s last directorial project, the latest and fourth installment of his Rambo series, knows that Stallone has taken a liking to extreme violence. It’s almost perfectly picturesque how ridiculously over the top the body count and excessive blood splatter that comes about in his meticulously planned action sequences that it’s hard not to like aspects of his replication of that style in his new film The Expendables. Touting a cast of well known action and male soup drama icons (i.e. fake wrestling) The Expandables also provides a non-stop exploitation of fast paced, non-sensical, blood filled action that would make John Woo blush. Stallone can’t direct a dramatic scene for his life and even falls short of providing decent and basic exposition for character and their specific intentions. However, those who are even considering buying a ticket for The Expendables aren’t exactly looking for the development of character or a storyline that goes beyond mind numbingly basic. Instead those summer movie goers are looking for car chases, gun fights, bodies exploding, dismemberment, and just a constant barrage of explosions and alpha male grunting. The Expendables delivers a blitzkrieg of violence that is practically unprecedented but suffers when there is even the slightest lull in its pacing. Looking for a way to sit back and vicariously watch a hodgepodge group of testosterone filled men deliver octane video game gore than The Expendables is your kind of summer escape.

As action movies go these days in Hollywood there is never truly an evil villain except, of course, if it is a corrupt American behind the scenes. This is so exhaustingly cliché that it’s hard to let it go as the story of The Expendables unfolds, which seemed to originally be about overthrowing an oppressive dictatorship. Instead of it actually being a tyrant ruling another country (which according to our movies they don’t really exist) he is a repressed misunderstood artist acting as a puppet controlled by an ex-CIA agent with a lot of money. Don’t bother seeing Oliver Stone’s new mockumentary about Hugo Chavez and other suave dictators to the South, just witness the portrayal of the misunderstood and manipulated government oppressor in The Expendables. It’s about as factual and you get to see some extreme head shaking enjoyable violence while you’re sitting in the theater. This is the situation our group of rag tag alpha males must encounter after we are introduced to them in the beginning of the film taking down (and blowing apart) some Somali pirates holding a group of people hostage. The crew consists of many familiar faces, including action legend and the director of the film Sylvester Stallone, and current action stars Jason Statham and martial artist Jet Li. These mercenaries are then hired by an unnamed CIA agent (a tongue in cheek cameo by Bruce Willis) to turn over the oppressive dictatorship of an island somewhere in the Gulf. It’s so simple yet expected and doesn’t exactly deter from the guiltily pleasurable entertainment that ensues in this pseudo-throw back to the action mantra that defined the 80s. The storyline is actually so formulaic that it aids the film as a whole when there isn’t any time to contemplate how over done and simplistic everything in The Expendables becomes.

But why change up the formula when Stallone knows that when it comes to modern movie goers and their love for excessive violence on the screen, killing ends up being good business and in The Expendables business is booming. Clearly no character interaction or introduction is necessary unless they are a means to Stallone’s end of just having as much pulse pounding action that is meant to release all of your built up adrenaline. It is so paradoxically mesmerizing how truly engaging this bad piece of filmmaking actually is considering that the dramatic moments are forced, the acting is borderline amateur, and the motivations for making a decision are quite questionable. The Expendables, and Stallone, know their limits and fully embrace the childish display of an old time standard of a masculine thrill ride that made 80s movies so fun. However, just because a film embodies a personality doesn’t mean it is at all intelligent and that is what is so disappointing about The Expendables due to the fact that even 80s action films such as Die Hard, Rambo: First Blood, Total Recall, and Escape from New York all had good stories with well developed or charismatic characters.

There is definitely personality on the screen, either with the constant pounding of action or the strange cast of characters, but all of the interactions are so forced that it’s difficult to get involved with anyone presented to us in the film. In fact, any motivations for the decisions that are made are clearly meant to just propel us into more action and more nonsense. The Expendables was clearly only made for Stallone to direct an action extravaganza because the dialogue is atrocious, the characters are unfelt, and the scenes where there is no violence (which is pretty rare) are excruciating to experience. Stallone has always been difficult to understand but how he felt satisfied with a dialogue scene between himself and an already English challenged Jet Li without subtitles shows a lack of foresight. Jason Statham is in typical fashion driving fast and shooting faster but when he lets his ex-girlfriend on the back of his motorcycle after being rejected it’s difficult to understand the why other than the fact that it follows a major beating of a group of frat oriented jackasses. The rest of the cast, including Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, and Steve Austin, have moments that work with their limited personalities but truth be told it really didn’t matter who was holding the gun blowing people to shreds it just mattered that they looked the part. Seriously, where were Steven Seagal, Kurt Russell, and Jean Claude Van Damme? Mickey Rourke provides one scene of genuine emotion, which only goes to prove that he really doesn’t belong in this cast and should be off doing another Wrestler instead. But no one can stop him from just having fun, which Stallone’s film is an amateur adrenaline rush of entertaining nonsense.

The Expendables is at once a throw back to the action films of the 80s while remaining incredibly modern in its ability to remain simplistic in story and complex in calculated action delivery. Stallone knew that the best part of his last Rambo film two years ago was the carnage and disembowelment that occurred after the atrocious exposition that preceded it. Here there is no grounding in character, no tedious build up of story, and instead just depends on a constant mind numbing barrage of action sequences that have as much blood, explosions, and fast paced editing as possible. It’s unfortunate to watch such enjoyable and carefully planned out action amongst a script of characters and dialogue that could have been written by a 10 year old. Our action movies used to have a bit more grounding in story until they realized they didn’t have to waste their time on it since their audience never truly cared for it anyway. The Expendables will never be an action classic because it offers no memorable quotations, no interesting or relatable characters, and the violence is just so constant that it’s difficult to pick out those favorite scenes that everyone talks about. But it is a thrill ride and it wasn’t made for those picky movie goers who expect a good story.

Grade: C+

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