“The Expendables,” sad to say, is just that: a movie the world could have done nicely without. It looks like a vanity project from the aging Sylvester Stallone, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay. The ads for it feature two of Sly’s ol’ action hero buddies, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, but they are misleading. The Guvernator appears like an angelic visitor, framed by bright lights in a church door, utters maybe ten lines, and departs back into glory, or perhaps California. Willis plays the cameo role of Mr. Church, completing the trio’s one brief scene together, then disappears from the proceedings.
The rest of the film is basically shooting, knifing, strafing, bombing, and setting on fire of places and people. Oh, there are some throwaway tough guy lines and jokes to lighten matters up, but these are far too few and far between. It is as if Stallone and fellow screenwriter Dave Callaham just ran out of words--not that Rocky/Rambo’s creator has ever been long on dialogue--and began piling action sequence on action sequence. The result, however, is to render all the furious violence, well, boring, and at times laughable, but not intentionally so.
The title characters, if we can call them that, are a buncha soldiers of fortune, apparently headquartered at a garage cum tattoo parlor run by one “Tool,“ (Mickey Rourke, in his post-”Wrestler” scumbag mode). The gang comprises Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Ying Yang (Jet Li), Toll Road (Randy Couture), and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews)--and no, I am not making this up. As their leader, Barney Ross, Stallone tries to project a certain world weariness, but he mostly just looks weary, appropriately for his 64 years.
The mission what Mr. Church, actually a CIA guy, sends them on is to liberate a tiny South American country run by dictator General Garza (David Zayas), who is bankrolled by a rogue ex-CIA agent named James Munroe (Eric Roberts), whose “doctrine” is not be confused with the original. Seems he wants to run his own cocaine operation, so he has laid down the law about who does what to whom. He and his henchmen, Paine and The Brit, terrorize the locals, including the Generalissimo’s daughter, Sandra (Giselle Itie),who, it develops, is the leader of what passes for the local resistance and the CIA’s contact.
After the set-up, the movie follows the standard “blow up the fort to save the damsel in distress formula.” Stallone throws in a few allusions to his own films and (I think) to “Casablanca,” as window dressing. But the young male target audience isn’t likely to be amused, as they clearly were by the non-stop mayhem and mind-numbingly thunderous soundtrack. (A violent storm burst outside the theater when I saw the movie: I had no idea.)
Give Stallone this: he sure knows how to make money. “The Expendables” opened big this weekend, will likely make scads in its worldwide release (where language difficulties present no problem), and an indefinite afterlife on the Spike channel and, I presume, a video game version. I’d advise against adding to the profit. It’s very appropriately rated “R.”