The Expendables, is wretched. A throwback to the worst of the tough-guy adventures of the 1980s (remember Cobra, Red Scorpion or Commando?), its cast includes every major male action star of the last 30 years. In addition to Stallone, there's Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin and the Terminator himself, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a cameo. Only Jean-Claude Van Damme seems conspicuously absent.
The gang of former military goons that calls themselves "The Expendables" — the logo is emblazoned on their oversized motorcycles — is enlisted by a CIA functionary (a stiff turn by a strangely angelically-lit Willis) to take down a South American dictator. It becomes too quickly apparent that the seemingly ruthless General Garza (David Zayas, recognizable as the Latino gang leader on HBO's frequently homoerotic Oz) is a puppet of a rogue CIA agent played with sadistic glee by Eric Roberts.
Sadism runs high in The Expendables and ranges from the threat of beheadings to actual beheadings, bodies blown literally to smithereens by high-powered assault weapons, knives repeatedly thrown through the sides of people's heads, and the waterboard torture of a young female revolutionary (the appropriately noble Giselle Itie). This is the kind of movie where burning someone alive isn't adequate punishment; their charbroiled but still breathing body has to be stomped to death. To call the film's violence excessive would be a massive understatement.
The production's two not-quite-saving graces are (1) Mickey Rourke and (2) a pair of impressively staged action scenes. Rourke, who continues to enjoy a deserved cinematic resurgence after his Oscar-nominated turn in The Wrestler and this summer's Iron Man 2, both nails a tongue-in-cheek approach to this material that his castmates sadly lack and manages to pull off the one serious, heartfelt monologue in the whole movie. The latter actually seems out of place, but Rourke brings a desperately needed humanity and pathos to the film within just a few minutes. A fiery plane attack on a villain-occupied dock and a rowdy car chase through busy city streets with guns ablazin' are the film's two memorable set pieces.
Stallone, who also co-wrote the screenplay (with David Callaham) and directs, sports a waxy, veiny physique throughout as the Expendables' leader, improbably named "Barney." The actor who played his nemesis in Rocky IV, Dolph Lundgren, similarly looks like he's had bad plastic surgery. Statham comes off best as the vicious but semi-just Lee Christmas. At 37, Statham also has the distinction of being the film's youngest cast member. That being said, there is something inspiring about seeing a bunch of middle-aged men kicking ass, albeit with the help of stunt doubles and some good editing.
Make no mistake: The Expendables is crap. It makes Stallone's previous directorial efforts Staying Alive and Rambo look like masterpieces by comparison.
Reverend's Rating: D
UPDATE: The Expendables is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.