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.
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.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK:
• 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.
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.