Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Expendables

The Expendables is kind of weird, because in some ways it delivers on its promise of over-the-top 80s style action with a giant cast of movie veterans, and in some ways it doesn't. I definitely liked it, but I feel that it also could have been much better. The problem is the question of how seriously the movie takes itself. If the movie was straight-up homage to what movies used to be and maybe more tongue-in-cheek, it might have been better. But you get the feeling that Sly Stallone was being completely genuine in his attempt to bring back the glory days, and in that light it's not as successful. I mean, as far as replicating what's come before, he pulled it off. The problem is that those movies were rarely actually very good, and the script at work here is pretty damn weak. It gets made up for a bit by the advancements we've made in filming entertaining violence, but it's certainly a flawed movie.

Sylvester is the leader of a crack team of guns for hire, featuring knife expert Jason Statham, martial arts expert Jet Li, betrayal expert Dolph Lundgren, giant ridiculous automatic shotgun expert Terry Crews, and Randy Couture. Stallone is the only one whose character is really drawn beyond a very brief sketch, and while the rest of them all have what could be described as character traits, they're really just there to help blow things up. Even the second in command Statham is basically playing Action Star Jason Statham, with the only thing trying to avoid this being one of the most pointless subplots ever. Here's what it consists of: Scene 1. He goes home to his girl (played by Cordelia from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and surprises her with a ring, but he finds out she's seeing another guy. Scene 2: He finds out the guy hits her, so he kicks his and his friends' asses on a basketball court and then drives off with her on his bike. Then she disappears from the movie.

And that's by far the most anybody besides Sly gets to do outside action scenes. Lots of guys get small parts, there's a fun scene where Sly gets a mission from Bruce Willis and has some half-witty repartee with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Mickey Rourke forgets what movie he's in and acts his ass off delivering a monologue that helps Sly figure out what he has to do. Eric Roberts is an enjoyable smarmy villain, Batista from Dexter is the foreign general whose army is getting taken advantage of, and Stone Cold is menacing enough as the king henchman. So there's a lot of recognizable faces, and they all seem to be having fun kicking each other's asses. The action is surprisingly well choreographed, featuring an entertaining mix of guns, hand to hand beatings, and giant explosions. Unfortunately this is mired a bit by how dark the movie is, especially in the climactic scenes, and a tendency to match the current trend of very quick cuts despite the old pedigree, which occasionally makes the super violence a bit hard to see. So it's an action movie without a good story to prop it up, and the action isn't perfect either. But like I said, I mostly enjoyed it, laughing out loud on numerous occasions while acknowledging that it wasn't actually a very good film. Which is fine, it certainly could have been much worse. Personally, I'm hoping for a sequel with more Dolph, Arnie, and Bruce. And some decent lighting.

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