So, The Expendables. What to say about this movie? Most of it people will already know. Sylvester Stallone stars, writes and directs and obviously called in a few favors from friends to join the cast.
Wesley Snipes, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Danny Trejo sadly didn't make the party as was originally intended, but the cast still includes the bulgingest muscularist cast assembled, bursting with testosterone and machismo - Stallone himself, along with Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, David Zayas, 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, Eric Roberts and Gary Daniels. And, of course, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in cameo roles.
The screen's too small to contain all the bulging biceps, tattoos, gold teeth, cowboy hats, motorbikes, guns and fuck off, great big shiny knives. Yes, once the movie starts rolling, the only way they could convey sheer manliness any more is by Stallone waving his hairy bollocks in front of the camera.
So, with all this machismo on display, you know what to expect. Explosions. People hitting each other. Sometimes both at the same time. It's somewhat to be admired that the movie never tried to do any more than that. It doesn't try to give the characters deep motivations or layers. The only character who comes close to getting real depth is Mickey Rourke's. But that's not what you're here to see. You're here for guns, heavy metal soundtrack, ass-kicking and more homoeroticism than an entire season of Will and Grace.
In that, the movie succeeds admirably. It's hard to criticize the movie for failing to deliver what it sets out to do. It does, in spades. It can be criticized for having limited aspirations, but not for failing to deliver on them. There's a huge body count, an almost relentless amount of high explosive rounds being let off and the usual gang of two-dimensional hard guys running through it with highly ridiculous names, (Christmas, Gunner, Toll Road, Tool, Hale Caesar, Yin Yang, Paine, Trench, the Brit), aiming to bring down evil dictators and corrupt CIA Agents. A total guilty pleasure, then.
So, on that level it delivers - There are some entertaining and engaging action sequences. Dolph Lundgren versus Jet Li is a high light of the movie. Terry Crews steals another chunk. There's a great sequence with an aging sea plane and a fantastic car chase sequence. Eric Roberts is suitably scenery chewy as the villain of the piece. The Willis and Schwarzenegger cameo is three old friends clearly having fun, with many winking asides at the audience.
It's just a pity that the rest of the movie doesn't seem to be having quite so much as fun as that scene. Stallone doesn't seem to know quite how to pitch it and, unlike the sheer tongue-in-cheekness of The A-Team, it doesn't embrace the cheese to the same degree and makes a few half-hearted attempts at seriousness and depth instead. There's a few moments where the cast are obviously having fun, but for the most part that sense of enjoyment doesn't come across on-screen. I'm not saying that the movie should have all been about the cast having fun - that way leads only to Oceans 12 - but an enthusiasm from the cast can be infectious and often it was missing as the tongue went from the cheek and the deadpan expression descended. It means the movie struggles to have a clearly defined identity of its own, more in common with the straight faced Rambo than many of the other 80s action movies that could have inspired it that had more of a sense of humor. It doesn't lack heart, necessarily, but it does seem to lack a sense of how ridiculous it all is.
Of course, with all this machismo on screen there's hardly a look in for the female characters. Giselle Itie is, at least, given a little to do, but that's mostly play the hot tempered Latino with a heart stereotype who gets captured and brings the men charging in to her rescue. It's nice to see Charisma Carpenter again, but her character is barely sketched and she's just there to play the eye candy that Stratham must save from the abusive boyfriend. Yeah, not exactly layered stuff here.
And the end of the day, it's a little hard not to be disappointed. There's just a sense that the movie should have just been more... fun than it was. Or, at least, funnier. Some self-realization about the aging talent on display on the screen, not just off it, would have secured the movie a special place in my heart. As it is, it's enjoyable enough and the brawn over brains mentality is hard not to get drawn into, and, while hugely enjoyable, it's not quite as great as it could have been.