Monday 11 August 2014

The Expendables 3 review

The Expendables 3 (12A/PG-13, 126 mins)
Director: Patrick Hughes
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

To borrow a quote from one of this week’s other releases, Hector and the Search for Happiness, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

And yet it’s pretty much all this creaky franchise has going for it. This third entry in the action star retirement home series is not well written, it’s 30 minutes too long and the action isn’t even particularly good. And yet, for reasons that are mostly to do with the unnameable magnetism of sheer star wattage, it remains oddly watchable throughout.

It begins with a massive attack on a prison train by a handful of ageing mercenaries, the Expendables (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham et al), to bust out old comrade Wesley Snipes. It’s cheesy and daft to the extent that it must be a parody, brimful of macho posturing, which to some degree has been diluted this time around by the lighter tone, even if the attempts at banter are generally pretty feeble.

It lumbers to another set piece where an old foe turns up in the shape of Mel Gibson, a former Expendable turned arms dealer. Gibson adds real value here, with an admirably composed nutjob performance that demonstrates how much he’s been missed from our screens in recent years.

And still the superstars get rolled out, with Harrison Ford securing a nice payday as a replacement for Bruce Willis, cameoing as a CIA boss who gives Stallone the mission to go after Gibson. Whatever passes for a theme in the movie arrives with an acknowledgment that the Expendables might be getting a little long in the tooth for such silliness; the problem is they (and the film) don’t really believe it.

But still we get a dead midsection where nothing happens while Stallone disbands the crew and teams up with Kelsey Grammer to recruit new younger members. This takes an age, but at least comes with the addition of Antonio Banderas, who adds a touch of pep to the otherwise taciturn team.

For a movie with a teen-friendly rating, the action is sturdy enough and the body count is astronomical (the climax see the Expendables take on literally an entire army) but a bit more blood might have helped. The problem with the action is a physical and logistical one, with little sense of space given and too often overloaded with CGI or cut together much too maniacally.

But it all boils down to watching these stars do their thing, and the pleasure in that is undeniable. Considering the cast is so massive it’s still very much the Stallone show, since he came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay. Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li barely get a look in, but every once in a while, just seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford sharing the screen can be enough to raise a smile.

There are many winks and nods to past glories, and while you can only coast on nostalgia so long, hearing Arnie trot out some of his classic lines will be good enough for many.