Review by Jack Foley
WHEN Sylvester Stallone first started announcing the cast for his new movie, The Expendables, the Internet was ablaze with excited posts declaring that it would be the best action movie of all time.
The resulting film falls some way short of that mark, but it’s still a retro blast nonetheless, which arrives as one of the year’s guiltiest pleasures: a testosterone overload that recalls an era of cinema when men were men and women needed rescuing.
The Expendables does exactly what it says on the label, offering a nostalgic and very violent reminder of the late ‘80s-early ‘90s action films that used to be populated by most of its stars.
Hence, Stallone is joined for this task by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger (albeit briefly) as well as Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke and Dolph Lundgren. There’s also Jet Li, Jason Statham and Steve Austin among the ensemble…a veritable who’s who of Hollywood bad boys and muscle-men.
The plot is simple. A group of ageing mercenaries, led by Stallone, undertake to overthrow a South American dictator and his CIA stooge after having their collective consciences pricked by a feisty female freedom fighter who just happens to need rescuing.
In truth, what little subtlety there is suggested by the plot is lost amid countless punch-ups, explosions and gun-play with each of Stallone’s stars afforded a moment or two in the spotlight.
But there is a sly knowingness to proceedings, too, that suggests Stallone – as co-writer and director – knows how ridiculous the whole thing is in today’s context.
Hence, a tense stand-off is interrupted by a mobile phone, Statham’s knife specialist gets to hint at a sensitive side in his dealings with his lover, and there are plenty of nods to the stars’ past collective work.
Action highlights come courtesy of a mid-movie escape sequence, featuring Stallone, Statham and a sea-plane, and a big three-way brawl between Li, Sly and Lundgren. Several of the final fight scenes are suitably bone-crunching and cheer-inducing, even if Stallone spurns the opportunity to cover himself in too much glory by allowing his character to ‘get his ass kicked’ (another nice touch).
But for all the bravado and hi-jinks, I have to confess to finding the smaller moments among the best. The much talked about ‘reunion’ of Willis, Schwarzenegger and Stallone is a well-written pissing contest that’s rife with references to each star’s on and off-screen personas, while Mickey Rourke gets to flex his acting pecks by way of a sombre reflection on his own character’s fall from grace.
Overall, though, The Expendables entertains in an old-school kind of way by placing its stars centre-stage and playing to their strengths, as opposed to the special effects department. It’s a glorious throwback to a different era of movie-making that capably demonstrates why you just can’t write off the old guys yet… the type of ‘so bad it’s good’ experience that Stallone has so often been a specialist in.
Running time: 102mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: December 13, 2010
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Sylvester Stallone interview
- Dolph Lundgren interview
- Jason Statham interview
- The Expendables photo gallery