Ingredients Both Present and Missing
That The Expendables is quite calculated seems already apparent -- the movie presents a gathering of action heroes from the past three decades all put together in one manly action-packed movie -- but it might take a longer look to appreciate just how calculated it is. Director and star Sylvester Stallone must have wanted the film to be a celebration and representation of the old, popular action films that gave him and his fellow stars their fortunes, and so his movie features an interchangeable plot with much of the stuff that came from the '80s, while ramping up on sleazy bad guys, hot chicks, foreign dictators, hand-to-hand combat, gunfights, car chases, lots and lots of explosions, and, most importantly, tough guy attitude.
It could have been great, too -- a knowing nod to the catharsis of might-makes-right excess -- but elements of letdown poke the movie throughout. Most of them are factors Stallone most likely could not have helped; for instance, the movie would have been so much better if Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson signed on, and if Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't limit themselves to cameos. Meanwhile, the presence of Steve Austin, Terry Crews, and Randy Couture doesn't really make up for what could have been.
Jet Li is on board, as is Dolph Lundgren, but they don't get that much screen time, so Stallone and Jason Statham carry the bulk of the weight. Stallone, though, must be fully blamed for adopting the counterintuitive strategy of shooting the action (especially that of the climax) in dark, frenzied, quick-edited shots of unintelligible mayhem. In a movie that's supposed to showcase a gathering of distinct men of action, it's a sin that it takes a lot of work for viewers to tell who's doing what during the big finale.
If The Expendables proves anything, it's that today's films lack the kind of action star/persona (the only exception possibly being Statham) that once felt like a regular part of moviegoing life before -- it's a sign of the times, but I think Stallone also wants us to believe we miss it. And he's not totally wrong; as such, his movie provides a decent, if not totally fulfilling, fix of that something we miss.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated "R" for strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.