Ah…the glorious days of the 80’s action flick. Guys who killed everything they shot at without getting hit by the millions of bullets flying around them, set off enough explosions to move the Earth from its orbit, and rescued the girl while toeing the line of homosexuality by making dick jokes and not bedding that girl at the end of the movie. It was a time when movies had no need for complex plots; they just gave us an evil drug lord who ruled a town or country with iron fist, killing the people who he controlled for no real reason and leading a team of seemingly invincible tough guys who were going to take him down. We loved them because they were the new breed of film at the time, pushing the limits of stunts and special effects. We didn’t need complex characters or story, mostly because that meant fewer bodies and explosions. We paid to see Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone flex their muscles while ringing up their body counts and muttering ridiculous one-liners. We kept going back to see how close Bruce Willis would be to death before delivering one more snarky line and putting a bullet in the bad guy’s head.
Eventually, Hollywood moved on and so did we. Special effects were getting better, the writing was getting smarter, and stories and characters were getting deeper and more complex. Before we realized it, our heroes had become obsolete and, in some cases, become state governors. But one guy never let it go and that guy is Sylvester Stallone’s grandma.
Side note: is there any question that certain entertainment figures have been on hormones, if not steroids, for a very long time when they are all aging into old women? Seriously, take a good look at Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan, and every wrestler over the age of fifty? Guys like Charlton Heston and Clint Eastwood look like grizzled old men and these other guys look like they might hit menopause at any moment. But I digress.
Upon seeing the trailer for “The Expendables,” my first question was “Do we honestly miss these films or are we just waxing nostalgic?” Actually, my first question was “Seriously?” With the new breed of action films, was there any room for one that included every 80’s guy except Tom Cruise and made no attempt to hide the fact that its whole purpose was to be a retroactive 80’s action movie? The answer is an unequivocal and resounding probably not. It’s not a definite no because Jason Statham is still doing movies like “Crank” and there are a lot of people who still pay to watch them. The difference, though, is that movies like “Crank” have at least made an attempt stay modern while Stallone will do no such thing. If you don’t believe it, try explaining the last Rambo movie.
“The Expendables” features a bunch of past and current action stars, Stallone probably thinking that bringing all of these guys together would be “totally rad.” The odd thing is that half of them don’t actually do anything. Arnold, Willis, and Mickey Rourke are pointless casting decisions when none of them so much as appear in the same room with a gun. Arnold’s character is especially pointless as his appearance is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to rekindle the Arnold/Sly rivalry that died with “Last Action Hero.” Rourke has two scenes, one in which he is acting as the mentor to Stallone, telling a story about a missed opportunity. This is supposed to be a poignant scene, but since Sly the director decided to give us a high-definition, thre- minute close-up of Rourke’s face, all the audience can think about – and look at – is his giant, slimy bottom lip which looks like a twenty-foot, swollen, wet earthworm. Oh, how I wish I was making that up.
Rounding out the cast are Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Steve Austin, Eric Roberts, Terry Crews, and Randy Couture. Hmm…one of these guys isn’t like the others. How obvious is it that Roberts is the villain? He’s the only one not growing bitch-tits or kicking someone’s ass. He’s also the stereotypical 80’s action villain – the rich, drug dealer enslaving a town to grow his cocaine. See what I mean about not keeping up with the times? Are we even still fighting a war on drugs? At the very least, it could have been Human Growth Hormone instead of cocaine. Think of the possibilities with that? Our heroes could have been taking fire and loading up like Popeye chugging his spinach.
On the surface, this movie delivered exactly what was promised – a high body count. There was no shortage of explosions, bullets, and knives – each of which killed dozens of bad guys. And that’s okay because that’s what we paid for. Unfortunately, Stallone the writer (and director and producer) was determined to make us as uncomfortable as possible with poorly shot and edited fight scenes, bad dialogue devoid of any kind of humor, and fight scenes featuring way too much of him and not enough Statham and Li. Beside the fact that Stallone just couldn’t resist featuring himself doing most of the fighting, it was nearly impossible to follow any of the action. I have no idea when this trend started, but it really needs to stop. I know these guys are old, but is it too much to ask for a steady camera and a cut that lasts longer than a half second? I recently saw “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and its fight scenes were orders of magnitude better. How sad is that?
Worst of all was that dialogue I mentioned. Even movies like “Predator” and “Die Hard” had some comic relief to ease the tension and audiences always respond well to quipping heroes. Even some of Stallone’s past films, like “Tango and Cash” and “Demolition Man,” had comedic undertones to add a little character to the film. That’s how brain-damaged he is at this point. This movie would have been better had the characters simply said nothing and just ran amok for two hours. As if to punctuate my point, his big goodbye line to the rescued girl is “You take care. You take care.” Somewhere, a screenwriter just died.
I hope you don’t think I’m just trashing a movie for the hell of it. I understand exactly the purpose of this film and why a person goes to watch it. Hell, I’ll even go so far as to say it’s not a bad movie and will entertain you. My whole point is that it doesn’t stack up well against today’s action flicks and that its one true failure is gathering a bunch of classic action stars and completely wasting the opportunity. It’s simply the latest attempt by Stallone to prove that he’s still a bad-ass, even if he does have to wear a bra now.
Rating: Ask for six dollars back. While entertaining, we should not continue encouraging him.