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By Jason Apuzzo. THE PITCH: Stallone & Co. try to bring macho, 80s action fare back into style.  Sly leads a rag-tag band of mercenaries into action against a rogue ex-CIA officer-turned drug lord and a South American Generalissimo.  Along the way, Stallone develops feelings for the Generalissimo’s daughter, while co-star Jason Statham works out issues with his girlfriend.  Mickey Rourke supplies the tattoos.

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THE SKINNY: Thoroughly mediocre, straight-to-video style action movie on steroids.  Basically a platform for Stallone’s Godzilla-scale narcissism … along with some nasty, leftist messaging about the CIA and American exploitation of Third World peoples, etc.

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• Making the villain of the piece an ex-CIA guy turned drug lord … who likes waterboarding women.  Sorry, but this took me completely out of the picture.  Shame on Stallone for jamming this junk into his film.  Trying to cash in with the overseas audiences, Sly?  You’re peddling an ugly stereotype of our intelligence services at a time when we can least afford it.  Our intelligence people doesn’t deserve to get thrown under the bus just to reboot your career.

• Trying to make Jet Li the comic relief in the film.  Stallone apparently confused him with Jackie Chan.

• The genuinely appalling stereotypes this film peddles about Central/South America.  Apparently everybody down there is either a druggie, a peon, a Generalissimo, or a sexy spitfire right out of a telenovela.  I guess you can get away with that stuff in a film nowadays so long as you gratuitously bash the CIA.

• The visual effects looked cheap, like something out of a Roger Corman movie.  The cheap effects give the film a straight-to-video vibe that it never quite shakes.

• Seeing Sly, Bruce Willis and Schwarzenegger together after all these years … meant exactly nothing to me, because these guys basically stand for nothing anymore other than their own careers, and their personal narcissism.  Schwarzenegger?  He’s currently presiding over the ruination of my state.  Willis?  When Live Free or Die Hard went overseas, he let the title be changed to Die Hard 4 in order not to ‘offend’ international audiences.  So watching all these ‘tough’ guys smirk and preen and chew cigars means zero to me now; besides, at this point Angelina Jolie could probably kick all their asses.


• I don’t know whether it’s plastic surgery or ‘roids or what – but both Stallone’s face and Mickey Rourke’s are starting to look like Paul Klee paintings.  They bulge and twist in interesting, novel directions and hold your interest.

• Statham.  The key to Statham is: he’s a handsome guy, without being pretty.  Being pretty is what ruined Van Damme.

• Due to clever editing and sound effects, I almost thought the fight scenes were good.  Jet Li was really wasted, though.

• Inheriting the Maria Conchita Alonso role from the 80s, Gisele Itié is certainly sultry.  I like the way she says ‘You Americans’ in this film.  The phrase has a kind of smoky, insolent lilt coming out of her mouth.  Too bad she gets waterboarded.

• It was good to see Dolph Lundgren again, and a great idea to have him fight Jet Li.  Poor Dolph still can’t act, though.

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The Expendables is basically Stallone’s victory lap, his valedictory statement on the action film.  But even though I’ve always been pro-Stallone in the past (how many of you can say you once snuck into a midnight screening of Cobra?  I can), I can’t go with him here.  I really think the only thing Stallone stands for any more is himself and his career – and his wife’s excellent skin care products, of course.

Personal narcissism was always an important subtext of Stallone’s films – you see it in the long, loving close-ups of Sly’s pecs in films like Rambo II or Rocky IV – but in The Expendables Sly turns narcissism into a creed, a kind of warped code of honor.  We learn in this film, for example, that Sly and his mercenary band will basically go anywhere and do anything for money.  Except in this case, Sly doesn’t take a job offered to him by Bruce Willis because he would then be – indirectly – working on behalf of the CIA.  [By the way, you know Bruce Willis is a villain in this film because he's a clean-shaven white guy wearing a suit.  In current movie iconography, that reads as bad.]  Being a patsy for the CIA is apparently not cool in Sly’s world.  What is cool, instead, is doing the exact same dirty work – and risking the lives of his team – in order to rescue the Generalissimo’s hot daughter, who wouldn’t even leave with him when she had the chance.  In essence, Stallone has the opportunity to do something for his country – albeit indirectly, and perhaps on behalf of a nasty character (Willis) – but he passes up the opportunity to indulge a personal whim.

It’s too bad that’s where Stallone’s head is, nowadays.  That kind of me-first mentality keeps this film from being the men-on-a-mission classic it could be, like The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare or Ice Station Zebra.  This movie has no sense of mission whatsoever, no sense of higher purpose other than the resuscitation of a star’s career.  I don’t know what ‘The Expendables’ are fighting for, or why I should care.  All we really learn from watching this thoroughly mediocre film is that South American women are as hot as ever.

Posted on August 14th, 2010 at 1:14pm.

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21 Responses to “LFM Mini-Review: Stallone Targets the CIA in The Expendables

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mr. K, Libertas Film Mag. Libertas Film Mag said: LFM Mini-Review: Stallone Targets the CIA in "The Expendables" … See: [...]

  2. servethepeople says:

    Thanks for the heads-up Jason. I’m really disappointed to hear all this. I expected better from these guys and was looking forward to going to see it this weekend. Now I won’t bother.

  3. Reeserlvr99 says:

    What else do you expect from a bunch of over-paid Hollywood narcissists? No wonder they can’t see beyond their own careers to do something positive for their country.

  4. PowderMagazine says:

    I saw the film yesterday and like you was troubled that Stallone took the anti-CIA line. But I thought the movie had some good, honest bonecrunching action and was pretty satisfying.

    Will all sins be forgotten if he goes after Osama in the next one?

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Sure, Powder, you bet. But the point is, he would probably need the CIA’s help to do that …

  5. RalphtheRover says:

    “The Expendables” looks like it’s going to be the top movie this weekend. Millions of people are going to see it, which makes it all more of a shame that Stallone had to include a anti-CIA message in it. This guy has been claiming a lot in the media lately that he’s a patriot, but where’s the patriotism in his film? This movie just sounds like the usual left-wing drivel we’re already getting from Hollywood every day.

  6. Pong says:

    i saw it late last night..kind of reminded me of “commando.” it was ok in parts, hard to believe stallone could take on steve austin for 2 seconds and survive. i agree about the waste of jet li.

  7. DJMoore says:

    I, too, was immediately put off by the American bad guy. The waterboarding was just part of the package.

    Two little touches that also put me off:
    1. Not turning off the fuel dump after soaking the dock. In fact, not turning it off until after the dock was blown up. All I could think of was the scene at the end of Die Hard 2 where a much smaller fuel dump allows a flame to engulf the escaping aircraft. Doesn’t help that Bruce Willis had a bloodless part here.

    2. Stallone playing with the airplane engine crane while briefing the boys. Why that bothered me so much I don’t know, except that it was a distracting gesture that seemed to have no purpose other than to establish that Stallone was such a bad ass, he had airplane engines hanging around in his garage.

    Oh, yeah one more thing: Un-Steady cam must die. It makes chaotic battle scenes impossible to follow.

    The one thing I really liked about this movie: O’Rourke telling his Bosnia story. That was a lovely bit of acting, unmatched by anything else in the film. A show-stealer.

    I really wanted to like this movie. It was quite a let down.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Yeah, that’s the thing DJ – I wanted to like it, too. I came in hoping for the best. I think Stallone is at his best when he’s the underdog, and in this film he’s usually acting cocky. In his best films, the early Rocky and Rambo pictures, you always feel that Stallone is overmatched. When he gets into the whole swaggering, mugging for the camera routine like he does here, it all falls apart. Never for a second did I feel that things were out of his control. Stallone’s character needed a moment like they gave Rourke.

      Keep coming back here, DJ.

  8. Vince says:

    I’m happy to see a conservative-minded film critic review this film openly and honestly.

    Look … we ALL cheered for this film, but I also find it hard to get on board with Sly on this one. If he approached this film as he did with Rambo, he would’ve explored the consequences of a dictator, and his Expendables would’ve had to compromise their mercenary ways to do what’s right … that’s conflict.

    Instead, Eric Roberts’ character muddled what moral clarity there was in the story.

    And it’s not like this material isn’t relevant: Our government sided with the Marxists in Honduras recently. If Sly really wanted to discuss the American involvement in South America, this would’ve been the way — not throwing the CIA, even if it is a rogue agent, under the bus.

    However, I think you hit the nail on the head here: Sly was worried about the overseas take here.

    Great review, Jason. If we’re to win this culture war, we HAVE to be honest.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Thanks, Vince, I appreciate your remarks … particularly because this was a painful review to write. Nobody should think I enjoy attacking Stallone at all – it really bums me out, frankly. I remember arguing with people over Stallone, saying that Rocky is a better film than Raging Bull, etc. [I still think it is.] Sly could easily have knocked this one out of the park, but he felt the need to make compromises, apparently.

      I think this is just a function of him being in Hollywood too long, listening to people whispering in his ear, wanting to get back into the game, etc. That’s a dangerous path to go down. I’m sure the film is going to perform well … but I wonder how much better it could have done with a bit more patriotism.

  9. Anton says:

    I love the irony! The front page of today’s New York Times is about how Obama and his merry band of formerly rogue and heroic CIA types are taking the war to the enemy and out Bushing Bush!! Real life warriors doing real damage to real people on the opposing team!

    Meanwhile, back in Hollywood…a bunch of over the hill steroid addled, surgically enhanced narcissists prance about in the latest film from thespian Stallone. YO Adrian!!

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Imagine me holding my head in my hands at this point. [Sigh.] It’s so true. Yo, Adrian, indeed …

  10. johngaltjkt says:

    I have a suggestion if your readers want to see a well done and innovative movie. That’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I’m a huge fan of Edgar Wright and his hit streak continues with this one. It’s only taken till August for a well done wide release movie to be come out. (I’m not counting Toy Story 3 because that’s a already sold product and Scott Pilgrim is a unknown.)

  11. motionview says:

    I went in really wanting this film to work and came out – bleh. I never felt any sort of connection with anyone, there was no chemistry between Stallone and his grand-daughter aged leading lady (who is very sultry indeed). Immensely forgettable, really a shame, my self-imposed $10 weekly movie allowance down the tubes.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      I was very worried they were going to kiss. I’ll give Stallone credit for not going there.

  12. sanjuro says:

    DAMN! I was really looking forward to seeing this, can’t say I’m surprised though.
    Out of curiousity I checked out the reviews on another conservative leaning film site and they pretty much ignored the points you made, mentioning the rogue ex- CIA agent without commenting on how insulting much less cliche’ it was.
    Glad to have y’all back Jason, kept the bucks in my pocket and the good feeling of knowing I didn’t support another anti American POS.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Sanjuro thanks, so much – I really appreciate the shout-out. We love your contributions here, as always, and you’ve got the coolest handle, of course.

      Do me a favor: consider taking those same bucks in your pocket and throwing them at Salt, or something like Farewell. Good films always need the help at the box office. These are both strongly anti-communist films – taking a very positive viewpoint toward our intelligence services – that you’d barely know about if you were to visit certain other “conservative leaning” film sites …

  13. Mr. Rational says:

    Had been holding off on commenting until I saw the film. I honestly hoped that Mr. Apuzzo and I could get into another debate, because that would mean I really liked “The Expendables.” I did not, ergo, no debate. You know going in that a film like this won’t be good in the traditionally accepted sense, but that’s not why you go to see it anyway. You want a great popcorn movie…the good kind of bad, if that makes sense. And when a film with this cast and pedigree can’t even be the good kind of bad, then we have a serious problem.

    I could go on and on about the problems — ridiculous and/or predictable dialogue, a ShakiCam so violent I wondered briefly if they had hired a cameraman with Parkinson’s, etc. — but one moment in particular rankled. When the bad guy’s ex-CIA status was revealed, I thought for a moment that Stallone might be trying to isolate the agency from the behavior of a few of its agents and ex-agents. I would have been happy to buy into a line like, “The CIA is good, but they don’t always hire good men.” Unfortunately for my hopes and dreams, it’s made fairly clear in the subsequent dialogue that the CIA really wants to muscle its ex-agent out so THEY can take over the illegal drug operation he’s co-opted. Very nice, Mr. Stallone. Nor was the villain’s name lost on me when I saw it in the credits. Stallone had the gall to take an American villain, interfering in the affairs of a foreign country, and name him “James Munroe.” The substitution of a “u” for an “o” does not give him plausible deniability.

    There were a couple of decent over-the-top scenes…my inner fanboy was thrilled at the Great Action Movie Trinity together for a few minutes, I loved the initial escape scene at the dock, and Jason Statham went down smooth, the only one of the cast to do so. But it was a major disappointment. I’m going to see “Salt” tomorrow, and I fervently hope that Angelina Jolie can wash the taste of over-the-hill tiredness out of my mouth.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Thanks very much for jumping in here, Mr. R. Needless to say, I shared your disappointment … having very much wanted this film to succeed. I too noticed this multifarious slap at the CIA and was genuinely surprised that Stallone went along with it.

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