Friday, August 13, 2010
Review of The Expendables
I've been waiting for this movie for nearly two years now. Soon as I heard that this was announced, I immediately got an erection. I mean seriously... Sylvester Stallone directing and starring in a throwback to 80's action films with Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke AND Eric Roberts? Yes, please! I have been seeing footage of this since early last summer, and I've been stoked ever since. I spent my middle school years watching and enjoying cheesy action films from the late 80's/early 90's. Movies like RED SCORPION, COBRA, NAVY SEALS, DELTA FORCE, MARKED FOR DEATH, COMMANDO, HARD TARGET, AMERICAN NINJA and many more! Let's face it. Old school action has been dead for quite some time, and this film getting the greenlight just brought out the 14 year old action fan in me again.
The structure of this action flick is pretty loose. Stallone plays Barney, leader of a team of mercenaries. We're introduced to the team as they rescue some hostages. The recruits are Statham, Li, Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture. They shoot the shit out of the baddies, but Gunner (Lundgren) goes crazy and is kicked off the team. A little later, Stallone gets hired by Bruce Willis to assassinate a general. They learn that the target is being manipulated by a sleazy ex-CIA agent (Eric Roberts, of course). There are subplots that involve Statham's girlfriend, and an ex-expendable played by Mickey Rourke. But the main objective in this film is to kick ass, and the story does lead us to a big action finale that lasts over 20 minutes.
The film begins nicely. The small action set piece that opens the picture is short but it kicks enough ass to get the testosterone pumping. It does establish that this isn't going to be an improvement over those action film of the 80's, but exactly like them. The cheesy fake laser sights really put me in the proper mood for how this flick was going to go down. But then the story forgets about most of the expendables except for Stallone and Statham. That didn't bother me too much, but I would have liked one scene that established the team's relationship with each other. Just ONE scene would've been enough. I liked the free and loose scenes involving Rourke's character, and Stallone has some good chemistry with Statham.
But, the structure is really sloppy. I can't really complain too much I guess, since what I wanted was a B-picture. And that's what I got. I could've done without Statham's girlfriend subplot. I wish Li's character was expanded upon more, cause when he shows up for a key action scene about an hour in, it felt awkward. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me break down to you what worked and what didn't.
What Works: Some of the sequences in this will make any action fan nostalgic. Loved the airplane sequence by the dock, with Statham sitting on the nose shooting at baddies. And Statham is good here, but still, playing the exact same character he has in the past 15 films. Terry Crews is surprisingly good as a badass with an automatic shotgun. Love the sound it makes. Mickey Rourke easily gives the best performance. His monologue about not saving a prisoner is heartbreaking and made me remember why he was nominated for THE WRESTLER, and Stallone was good in that scene too. Dolph Lundgren delivers a deliciously awful performance as the expendable gone nuts. He's over the top and every line he says with affectionate awkwardness. I can see people complaining about Lundgren's performance since it's on a completely different level from anyone else. But, that's what you get when you cast Dolph Lundgren in a movie. I knew what to expect from him and loved it! I laughed everytime he spoke. His fight with Jet Li is pretty entertaining too. Loved how he kept hitting his head on things. Also, there's just something really awesome about seeing Lundgren's name on a big screen again (this is his first theatrical appearance in 15 years!).
Despite what many reviews have said, I thought Eric Roberts made a fantastic villain. His scenes were amongst my favorite in the film. I think Stallone totally nailed this casting, cause Roberts really feels like a villain from a 1987 action film that would have been shown on Showtime every night at 11pm. Loved him! And I really liked the scene where Willis gives Sly the job. It features an actor that has always been Sly's competitor. I won't say who it is, but it's been given away in so many ads, so you probably already know. Not really a secret, but I don't want to risk spoiling it for someone who doesn't read AINTITCOOLNEWS every day.
What doesn't work: Stallone looks tired. He didn't seem to be on his game like he did with the latest ROCKY and RAMBO films (which I loved!). There's not really much to his character, Barney. Who is this guy? You knew who ROCKY and RAMBO were. Heck, even COBRA and his character from OVER THE TOP had more to them. But his performance wasn't that great either. Not that he was terrible, it just didn't seem like he was giving 100%, like he was on auto pilot. Jet Li is not very good in this at all. His line delivery is worse than Lundgren's. Sure, he gets to fight but it's all cut up so you can't really see anything spectacular anyhow (more on that later). Randy Couture can't act. He sticks out like a sore thumb. His fight with Steve Austin was extremely disappointing and the low point of the film.
Now, all of this could have worked if the action delivered. Some of it does. And some of it doesn't, and that's because of Stallone's direction. He films most of the action with that shaky cam, but the editing is all over the place, and occasionally shots didn't match. Some of it was sloppy. Not all, but some. And that's how this is different than your typical 80's action movie. Is DELTA FORCE a great film? Fuck no! But the action is shot in a straight forward, cheesy way that I can enjoy it. I can see what's happening. And that's what doesn't work here. Sure, the final battle has some cool moments when all the expendables are kicking ass simultaneously, but compare that to any action sequence in RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II. Every shot in THAT film is carefully structured and storyboarded. Not so here. Every fight is over- covered. sSeems like Stallone was trying to take this 80's concept and shoot it in this new action style. And that's why I can't fully recommend it. It's like having sex with an ex-girlfriend that you always wanted to get back together with, but once you go do it, you realized that she's changed. It's NOT the same. That pretty much sums up my feelings on THE EXPENDABLES.
That's not to say I hated it. There were things I really liked about it. Stallone and Austin have a cool throwdown (Stallone broke his collarbone, or something like that), there's a great standoff between Stallone and Roberts, and I loved the playfulness of the last scene. Much of the action does kick ass, but it could have been so much better if Stallone just filmed those scenes more simply, so we could see everything. If you're not as picky about filmmaking, I could see someone getting enjoyment out of it.
I like the idea of this movie much more than how it actually turned out. I really really wanted to like this movie. It still might be worth going to the theater with some old buddies of yours, have a couple of beers and reminisce about old action films. But it's just not the movie it could have been. I do hope it does well, cause I would like to see Stallone take another crack at a sequel. Hopefully, he will learn from his mistakes, cause it wasn't that far away from being good.
**1/2 (out of ****)