Friday, August 20, 2010

The Expendables (2010)

A blast from the past, a traditional, big-guns hard-rock action film about a group of mercenaries who take on a heroin-dealing dictator and his ex-FBI backer. The group itself is remarkable, but nothing mindblowing: the three principal players are Sylvester Stallone (who wrote and directed this shindig), Jason Statham, and Jet Li, along with Terry Crewes and Randy Coutour for backup. They are all competent action leads, and make lasting impressions despite their underwritten roles. But the real shockers here are the fringe players: Arnold Schwarzenegger as the head of a rival mercenary team, Bruce Willis as their CIA-agent backer, Mickey Rourke as an ex-Expendable named tool, Eric Roberts as the slimey ex-fed villain, and Dolph Lundgren as a steroid-junkie lackey. These guys walk away with the film, particularly Lundgren, whose hulking presence and weathered face makes him more threatening and imposing than ever, and Rourke, who masterfully delivers a monologue about neglecting to save a suicidal woman that actually achieves an emotional high point in this film, where clearly, no one gives a shit about, how you say, emotions? The action is well-shot and staged, especially the no-holds-barred invasion at the very end; this film is paced like the 1980 film Dogs of War, with a three act structure that involves an unrelated opening mission, a long reconnaissance period, and a final, all-out battle. The main flaw in the film is an abundance of treasures in the cast; individual stories tend not to be as interesting as the cast members that remain offscreen for the big plot developments. Seeing Arnie on screen, in particular, makes you dream of an ending where he drops in, machine gun in hand, saying something like "I'm the party pooper!" But alas, he remains a governor, and his role is unfortunately truncated, if still plenty noteworthy.

Highly Recommended for fans of 80s era actioners such as Dogs of War, Commando, or Delta Force. The leads all get shortchanged here, so seeing it for one of them could prove unrewarding, but the ensemble is phenomenal for action junkies. I prefer this to Rambo III and IV (it may be on par with II but it ain't no First Blood), and I definitely expect great things from any potential sequels (hopefully with GUNNAR!).

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