A CIA operative hires a team of mercenaries to eliminate a Latin dictator and a renegade CIA agent.
Sylvester Stallone stars as Barney Ross, the leader of a team of mercenaries called ‘The Expendables’ hired by a CIA suit (Bruce Willis) to take down the corrupt government of a fictional South American island country. Ross is joined by knife expert Lee Christmas (Jason Statham); the offensively-named Asian guy Ying Yang (Jet Li); the big Russian turncoat named Gunner (Dolph Lundgren); the heavy artillery expert Hale Ceasar (Terry Crews); and Randy Couture plays a character named Toll Road, whose sole mark on the movie is explaining his cauliflower ear.
Together they head to the island country to stop General Garza (David Zayas), who’s merely a puppet for the cartoonish villain Munroe (Eric Roberts). 2010’s third over-the-top CIA agent-gone-bad (Patrick Wilson played the same role in The A-Team; Jason Patrick played it in The Losers). Munroe’s followed by a bald brute named Paine (Steve Austin), the usual muscle-bound bodyguard type. Of course, there’s a woman involved; General Garza’s rebellious daughter Sandra (Giselle Itié), who Ross makes it his mission to rescue, but strangely there’s not even the suggestion of sexual sparks between the characters, which would have provided the hero some much-needed humanizing.
The point of the movie, if there is one, is that being a mercenary makes you dead inside.
Ironically, so do this movie’s attempts at sending this message. Mickey Rourke steals the show as Tool, an ex-mercenary and owner of a mercenary bar. (There are mercenary bars?!) Rourke’s level of talent feels far too elevated for this scrip. As evident in the scene where Tool recalls the moment when he decided to give up ‘the life’. He teaches Ross that killing for money creates a cavity in one’s soul. This doesn’t seem to matter moments later.
However, when Ross is mowing bodies down by the dozens, but it was a nice try. Perhaps if Stallone and Callaham had conceived some lingering doubt in Ross’ mind earlier in the script, suggesting he thought being a soldier of fortune wasn’t the best approach to life, then maybe his false emotional turn in the finale would have been believable. But, as we’ve learned from the aforementioned The A-Team and The Losers, a mercenary’s existence comes sprinkled with chummy repartee between pals, most of it comprised of bad jokes and macho riffs. Not to mention lots of dead bodies. What’s not to love?
The Expendables certainly isn’t a good one
Despite the heavily populated cast, Stallone and Jason Statham have the most screen time. And the movie plays almost like a buddy story between their characters. Statham’s Christmas shines in a subplot involving an ex-girlfriend that leaves him for an abusive jerk. When he discovers that she’s being beaten, Christmas roughs up the new boyfriend and his basketball pals in the movie’s best fight sequence. But the machine-gun action is mild for R-rated violence, especially compared to the horrific bloodshed of Rambo.
When a movie boasts ‘the greatest action movie cast ever assembled’. It should be back with memorable action scenes. Yet all the gunfire and fistfights become white noise after a while. And the audience sits with a vapid stare instead of alert involvement in the unfolding action. Worse, the cameo scene between Stallone, Willis, and Schwarzenegger may feature some of the most unfunny jabs in recent memory, while this trio of superstar actors appear genuinely uncomfortable together onscreen.
The Expendables (Biet Doi Danh Thue 1) isn’t a terrible action movie, but it certainly isn’t a good one. Audiences expecting what hype has promised will be sorely disappointed by the humdrum reality of what Stallone has put together. Those wanting only gratuitous violence accompanied by dialogue limited to roughneck male bonding, you’re in luck. But to place any hope in the idea that Stallone has made ‘the best action movie ever’ with ‘the best action movie cast ever’ is ridiculous. If anything, Stallone has demonstrated that he’s better at selling a concept than making a movie, as jazzed moviegoers will no doubt make The Expendables profitable, making way for the inevitable action movie sequel.