Friday 20 August 2010

The Expendables review

The Expendables (15, 103 mins)
Director: Sylvester Stallone
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Stallone. Statham. Li. Lungdren. Rourke. Willis. Schwarzenegger.

It’s a cast list that could only really be matched if someone came up with a movie poster that read:
De Niro. Pacino. Nicholson. Hoffman. Duvall. Spacey. Brando. Which really would be impressive considering he’s been dead for six years.

And yet Sylvester Stallone the director really has managed to assemble that first lot in the service of this brainless action extravaganza, albeit with the screen-time of Brucie and Arnie totalling less than two minutes. Still, nice to see them all together at last.

For an actor and filmmaker who was an object of derision for most of the last two decades, Sly has regained a great deal of dignity and respect in the last couple of years with his final tilts at Rocky and Rambo, so expectations for this were perhaps set higher than might normally be the case.

We’re introduced to the Expendables during a hostage situation, as Stallone and his crew of mercenaries (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lungdren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture – the characters do have names, but that’s not important) face off against Somali kidnappers.

Following the mission, Mickey Rourke pops us as the middle man who tells Stallone of their next possible job – to be hired by Bruce Willis’ CIA agent to take out a rogue general who has turned a central American island into a drug producing dictatorship.

Treading a very fine line between hokey fun and utter drivel, this is the kind of film that comes with so much built in good will that you want to give it the benefit of the doubt. The last thing you’d expect to be accusing it of is dullness, but after the prologue the next bullet fired in anger is a long time coming. But the bacon is saved by an outstanding sequence during Sly and Statham’s recce of the island before we hit another slump in the sometimes strained build up to the climax.

Instead of action we have to make do with an overdose of would-be easy banter that begins to grate after a while because it’s delivered by actors with no great gift for the playful. Stabbing people in the neck and blowing up entire countries, fair enough - but light comedy, not so much.

When the final reckoning does eventually come, it’s a bone-crunching, limb-slicing onslaught, with levels of violence that push the 15 certificate to its absolute limit. It’s almost as bloody as the last Rambo film but without the rage, with an apocalyptic body count and a chance for the other members of the team to finally get to show what they can do.

Fans of the likes of Commando should be thrilled, as everything about it screams of the 1980s, from the cast to the hackneyed story, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And yet Stallone refuses to completely commit to the demented tone necessary, even though he knows it’s nonsense.

Much like the 64-year-old star himself, The Expendables is a bit creaky and should have delivered a good deal more, but it just about gets the job done.

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