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The Expendables (2010)

18 Sep

Boasting a cast filled with names that would have come with a considerable pricetag in around 1987 but now come as part of a nostalgia package, ‘The Expendables’ finds ‘Sly’ once again at the helm. Considering that his directorial credits include clunkers like ‘Staying Alive’ and ‘Paradise Alley’, his continuing ability to be allowed behind the camera can only be put down to the puzzling popularity of the recent ‘Rocky’ and ‘Rambo’ retreads.

In keeping with Hollywood’s current fondness for all things ‘80s, ‘The Expendables’ takes us back to the days when ‘Sly’ could overthrow a South-East Asian regime with only a headband, a vest, a machete and a snarl. While ostensibly set in the present, the film is a paean to the heyday of gung-ho actioners, when ‘Sly’, ‘Arnie’ and the like dispatched a raft of foreign baddies single-handedly, without a UN resolution in sight.

Our eponymous heroes are a band of hotshot mercenaries sent to a fictional Island in the Gulf of Mexico to depose a puppet regime controlled by a former CIA agent. There endeth the plot. ‘The Expendables’ is a testosterone-charged, loud, violent, ludicrous mid-life crisis of a movie, featuring a cast of Harley riding, tattooed, facially immobile men of advancing years desperately trying to convince us that they can still do everything they could do twenty years ago.
Replete with car chases, decapitations, explosions, physics-flaunting stunts and fiercely heterosexual male bonding, one can only hope that those involved are aware of just how silly the whole thing is. It stretches credibility to breaking point that these men, most of whom probably need help getting out of the bath these days, are capable of performing the physical feats on display here.

Stylistically, we see the usual bag of tricks at play; slow-motion brutality, rapid-fire editing, giddy camerawork, a bombastic score and some very conspicuous stuntmen – this film must have been an overtime bonanza for its stuntmen, who no doubt had to fill in for any strenuous activity its cast were required to perform; climbing flights of stairs, bending over, chewing, etc.

Stallone slurs his way through the film like a punch-drunk Rocky as gang leader Barney Ross, delivering his barely decipherable lines with all the animation of a sedated bear. Bruce Willis and the Governor of California provide blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos as Mr. Church and Trench, smirking their way through a string of smug in-jokes and laboured badinage. Jason Statham treats us to his usual mangled mix of accents as the wonderfully named Lee Christmas, hovering between South London and Southern California throughout. Dolph Lundgren delivers most of the memorable lines as the maverick outcast Gunnar Jensen, including such gems as ‘life’s a joke, Shitbird!’ and ‘need a facelift, pretty boy?”. Martial arts legend Jet Li’s sole role is to be the butt of jokes about his size as the appallingly named Yin Yang and Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke is totally wasted in an inconsequential peripheral role; though both make the best of the paltry material they’re given. But it’s Eric Roberts who steals the show as rogue agent James Monroe; evidently relishing this opportunity to get his teeth into such a hilariously over-the-top role and hamming it up accordingly.

Part of the problem is that there are too many people trying to do too much in too little time, with the consequence that every character is poorly developed. A perfunctory effort is made to give them some dimension – Christmas is in the midst of relationship strife, Yang has financial problems and Jensen is battling drug addiction – but it’s merely window dressing for the film’s real focus.

There is also some first-rate misogyny on display; the film features two women, both of whom are ‘damsels in distress’ relying on the big, strong men to protect them. At one point, Christmas says to his ex-girlfriend, “you should have waited for me, I was worth it,” after beating the tar out of her abusive new partner.

The final twenty minutes is a relentless cacophony of gunfire, explosions, burning flesh and jets of blood spouting from gaping flesh wounds; the film takes almost pornographic delight in the hundreds of corpses it racks up.

One has to wonder whether South and Central America is about to usurp the Middle East as the new home of the action movie villain; with a new generation of leaders antithetical to US objectives in the region. The General Garza character is firmly in the Chavez/Morales mould and, in the same way that Rambo’s right-wing fantasies chimed with Reagan’s worldview, ‘The Expendables’ seems to echo the feelings of the hawks in the State Department towards those regimes.

For all its bravado, ‘The Expendables’ is a depressing watch, akin to a veterans sporting event where men who were once at the top of their profession struggle to relive their glory days.

Just keep laughing an he'll put us in the sequel!