The Expendables

Toward the end of this movie, there’s an odd scene that takes place in the passenger area of the Expendables’ ass-kicking cargo plane of doom, where the token black guy (Terry Crews) shows off his weapons to one of his fellow mercenaries. His final weapon is an extremely shiny straight razor with a handle made of transparent, neon-yellow plastic. The sight of that weapon literally made me say, “What the fuck?”

This is pretty much a metaphor for the entire movie experience.

I really wanted to like this movie. I really did. It had the hallmarks of the ridiculous but fun action flick. Kind of like The Scorpion King, a movie that I like in a sort of shame-filled way.

There was a good amount of fake, spraying blood. There was a gun that, at the beginning of the movie, literally tore someone in half and left the legs comically standing alone for a moment while the torso splattered against a wall. There were a dizzying array of knives (most of them wielded by Jason Statham’s character) which were apparently made with steel with such a strong anti-reality resonance that bone simply ceased to exist as soon as it contacted the blade.

But. But.

I don’t ask for a lot of plot out of my action movies. But I do like what little plot there is to be, I don’t know, coherent.

The Expendables feels less like a film and more like a series of loosely collected scenes that have been arranged randomly. And all of the dialog was drawn, half a line at a time, from a box. I think that some of the scenes were supposed to be character development. Instead, it normally amounted to two characters saying random things to each other for about three minutes, at which point the spraying blood and explosions would mercifully resume.

I wish I could give you a plot summary, but I really can’t. The best I can manage is that Stallone and his group are mercenaries. Except one of them burns out and goes crazy and tries to kill Stallone in the middle of the movie, after miraculously transporting himself to and from the tiny Latin American island hell hole where the Evil General lives. There is a douchey guy in a suit, who I initially guessed must be an American politician; I was close, he was an ex-FBI agent gone evil. There was the crazy general, who spent most of his time oscillating randomly between spanish and nonsensical English. He is sort of the pawn of the douchey suit guy, who wants him to grow drugs, or something, except nothing is getting done because the general’s soldiers keep kidnapping civilians and then not putting them to work in the plantations. There was the evil general’s daughter, who was Stallone’s love interest. There was Charisma Carpenter as Jason Statham’s girlfriend, causing a strange little sideplot where Mr. Statham beats the ever-loving shit out of a bunch of jerks on a basketball court.

The movie culminates in an orgy of gunfire, stabbing, and explosions, where the douchey suit guy shoots the general and then tries to kidnap his daughter for no apparent reason, despite the fact that earlier in the movie he was all for just killing her and having done with it. And I can’t even say the spraying bullets and blood were all that interesting, because on several occasions during the climactic action sequence the focus was jumping between three or four individual fight scenes with no logic or warning.

That’s also how the two major car chase scenes go as well. They actually become boring because it’s impossible to tell where the vehicles are relative to each other, and it’s really just an unnecessary pause in the bloodletting anyway.

The movie is an exercise in wasted potential. Jet Li appears in the film, but spends most of his time getting his ass handed to him by much taller white guys. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger appear in the movie for a combined total of five minutes and then, no doubt feeling the threat to their careers, never appear again. Mickey Rourke plays a tattoo artist who was presumably once a mercenary himself – he’s quite good at throwing knives – but spends most of his time trying to develop a character that is wholly uninvolved in the plot (such as it is) and has about as much depth and charm as Sarah Palin anyway.

The movie doesn’t so much end as drop in its tracks, exhausted by its own meaningless existence, with Statham making up a “poem” that had me trying to crawl between the couch cushions to escape it.

You will notice that at no point do I name any of the characters. This is because, over the course of the movie, I simply could not be bothered to learn them. The names, like the characters themselves, felt like an afterthought, a formality added to the mix to justify this as a movie rather than one hundred minutes of random people getting shot and stabbed and blown up.

Before it was over, I tried to convince myself that The Expendables was some sort of high-level satire of the action genre. What convinced me this couldn’t be possible was a scene in the middle of the movie where the general’s daughter is waterboarded by the douchey suit guy. That one scene in the midst of the ridiculous mess of a movie was disturbing and strong. And it also made me realize that, to a certain extent, the movie was meant seriously. Which somehow makes it worse.

We don’t ask much of our action movies, but this one fails on all counts. You’re better off watching nearly any other movie that any of these actors have been in. My personal recommendation would be Die Hard. Or, failing that, you’ll still get better quality story and acting from – and it pains me to say this – The Scorpion King.

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