The Expendables

Back when Tipper Gore held sway, concerned citizens tsk-tsked about the high body counts in the movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Twenty years later, Schwarzenegger has pink-slipped forty times that number in California (a worse termination than stage-gutting an extra) and Stallone’s rebutted with The Expendables, an action flick where a helpful henchman tallies that Sly’s team mowed down 41 goons in one afternoon’s skirmish. And that’s just in the first act. I’d peg the body count at 200, but that’s a guesstimation akin to wagering on the number of jellybeans in a jar.

Stallone boasted that he’s made the drunk uncle of all dumb action movies and in several ways he has: there’s easily 30 minutes of killing montages and an ensemble to die for, namely Jason Statham, Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren as part of the Expendables, a mercenary squad hired to take down an island dictator (David Zayas) and the wealthy white man behind him (Eric Roberts). The resulting film is macho enough to reach out and slap any dude in the audience sipping a Diet Coke. Here, bullets blow off the top half of a man and after you set an enemy on fire, you can top it by punching him in the face. Characters enter backlit like classic cowboy gunslingers and each frame seems to reek of gasoline.

But the fights are so confusingly edited, it’s like getting a can of Axe sprayed in your face. It doesn’t help that Stallone’s ego (and age) make him shoot all his action sequences in close-up. (The vanity in that nipped and plumped face undermines the aggro points he gets from drinking beer while flying a plane.) Between fights—which is to say, passingly—the crew squats in ex-Expendable (an Essential?) Mickey Rourke’s tattoo shop to listen to Creedence, and bemoan their love lives—possibly the film’s most wholly fantastical indulgence.

After justice—or, at least, righteous ass-kickery—prevails, we’re left content but not sated. The Expendables isn’t the end-all of action blockbusters. It’s a calling card that its cast can still crack skulls and court a crowd, particularly Roberts’ preening baddie, Lundgren’s unhinged killer (with his Chemical Engineering degree, has a better human specimen ever existed?), and Statham, who, as this film makes apparent, is still young and gifted enough to become the biggest heavy in Hollywood. Handsome, charming and lethal, he’s as nimble as Jet Li and as bald as Bruce Willis. But so he doesn’t get too cocky, Willis struts on in an early cameo with Schwarzenegger to prove he’s the only man alive who can stare down Ahnold and Stallone and smirk, “You guys aren’t going to suck each other’s dicks, are you?” It’s the battle of 1988 all over again and these titans still pack a punch.

Click here for The Expendables in the IE Weekly

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