Movie Review: The Expendables

Ageing action heroes with a few clever quips

When someone ends up with half a torso in the first ten minutes of an opening scene, you know what kind of a film you’re going to be watching. Of course, throw in an action man line up that would make even Superman quake at the knees and you know this is going to be no ordinary ride.

Once upon a time, the idea that [b]Arnie, Sly, Bruce[/b] and [b]Dolph[/b] would ever get together to share the spotlight would have been as laughable as, say, the prospect of [b]Arnold Schwarzenegger[/b] in politics. But, as we know, things change and in this relentlessly nostalgic stalker’s love letter to the ghosts of action heroes past, we see all these and more join hands in one of the most talked about film events of the year.

The plot is basic enough- ageing paid mercenaries do one last job, and in the midst of it, the leader [b]Barney Ross[/b] ([b]Stallone[/b]) rediscovers his long dormant soul as he returns to the scene of the crime to save the beautiful young girl from the clutches of an evil ex-CIA baddie [b]James Monroe[/b] ([b]Eric Roberts[/b]). The group is bulgingly impressive, with [b]Mickey Rourke, Stallone, Lundrgen[/b] and [b]Jet Li[/b] making grizzled knife-happy newcomer [b]Jason Statham[/b] look positively spritely as he grabs the metaphorical action baton gently away from their weakened grasps. It is [b]Rourke[/b], as whimsical tattoo artist [b]Tool[/b] who has the most to say, with a mildly interesting monologue about heart and soul, a heightened version of the cautionary tale that, pre-[i]The Wrestler[/i], he once was.

Horrifyingly bad plastic surgery aside, there is a lot to divert viewers from the lacklustre plot and so-bad-it-might-actually-be-pastiche acting. They’ve thrown in a solid glut of self referential in-jokes that raise more than one chuckle, particularly [b]Eric Roberts[/b]’ tongue in cheek reference to family problems and the scene in which old adversaries [b]Ross[/b] and [b]Trench[/b] ([b]Schwarzenegger[/b]) snipe childishly at one another (“Give this job to my friend, he loves playing in the jungle” [b]Arnie[/b] says derisively. “He just wants to be president” responds [b]Sly[/b], to rapturous audience applause). [b]Willis[/b] cameos also, though like [b]Arnie[/b], has become too dignified to actually pick up a gun, while [b]Lundgren[/b] remains the outsider, indecipherable and tolerated as ever.

Aside from [b]Rourke[/b] though, and [b]Stallone[/b]’s sudden need for moral clemency, the characterisation is as shallow as our need for blood, guts and glory. Everyone is simply themselves – just a little bit older, but still (miraculously, improbably) able to hoist themselves, one armed, onto a moving helicopter if need be.

The violence, and there is lots of it, is a fountain of arterial blood and guts, a relentless slew of death that results in, debatably, a larger body count than many of their films combined. There’s one horribly violent and utterly pointless subplot involving [b]Statham[/b] and a basketball team. “What do you want?” he’s asked. “To watch you die” comes the flat reply. Hardly the stuff of the glory days, but strangely appealing to an audience eager for anything that brings them closer to that feeling you get the very first time you see the action film that defines your youth.

It’s difficult not to cringe, albeit nostalgically, at the vast gap between what they’re trying to achieve and what they actually manage to accomplish. But all power to [b]Sylvester Stallone[/b], whose thickly layered ironic pen has become far mightier than his tired old machine gun. If this is what constitutes going out with a bang, then it’s a job well done. But it’s not a good film without the subtext, And where the hell was [b]Jean Claude Van Damme[/b]?

[b]Andrea Hubert[/b]