To hell with The Expendables

Expendables poster

So how many of these guys would you actually expect to be members of the Expendables crew in the film? All nine? Eight? Seven? How about... five. Yes, five. (Okay, 5 1/2 if you include Dolph, who's on the team for about 10 seconds. I'm not counting Dolph.)

(I know I promised this post a few days ago, but a few emergency jobs came up. So anyway…)

That’s right, to hell with The Expendables.

Furthermore, I feel like Barack Obama.

(You saw that coming, right?)

I mean, except for the whole thing where I’m not the President of the United States. Or black. Or tall. Or the secret leader of an exclusive club dedicated to the eradication of meerkats.

Other than that, I feel just like the Prez. He stood his ground on his convictions, said he supports the right to build a mosque at ground zero. He decided to say what he felt is right, and everyone stood up and told him to go to hell.

(Mind you, I’ve heard good opinions on both sides of the debate. I’m not saying the Prez is right. I’m saying he’s standing up for what he believes is right, which is far more honorable. But anyway…)

And because my opinion of a cheesy summer action movie is every bit as important as my buddy Barack’s ballsy stand, I say to you again:

To hell with The Expendables. It’s a seriously lousy movie. Just because it has a few fun moments doesn’t mean it’s not a seriously lousy movie.

It’s fair to say not everyone agrees with my stand. Though the film technically has a “rotten” rating of 42% at Rotten Tomatoes, that still means more than 4 out of 10 reviewers essentially gave his crapfest a thumbs-up.

I’m not entirely shocked, because Rotten Tomatoes’ aggregate ratings include reviews from a lot of shaky critics. What does shock me is that The Expendables has a “top critics” rating of 34%. That’s not good, granted, but it does mean about 1 out of every 3 “top critics”–aka, people who should damn well know better–gave Sylvester Stallone’s incoherent mess a positive review.

Then I crank up iTunes and listen to A.V. Talk, the podcast of The Onion’s A.V. Club, and lo and behold, critics Scott Tobias and Nathan Rabin–two gentlemen who have not suffered any head injuries of late, as far as I know–also gave The Expendables a generally positive review. Sure, they acknowledged many of the flaws, but let them slide because this movie supposedly deserves some “don’t take it too seriously” leeway.

Then I’m listening to Bill Simmons’ killer podcast, the B.S. Report, and during a fun discussion about the new Madden NFL 11 game, they start going on about how they can’t wait to see The Expendables. Sure, they hadn’t seen it yet, but grrrrrr….

Mickey Rourke

You don't get any action from Mickey Rourke, but you do get an eternal close-up of this gorgeous face while he rambles on about war and his conscience. How awesome is that?

Finally, the movie kicked ass at the box office this weekend, which isn’t entirely surprising given the marketing and the (rather pointless, and incredibly brief) cameos by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.

… At least that’s what I want to tell myself. If I’m being honest with myself, I have to acknowledge the B+ score given by audiences means they were largely pleased with the final product, despite that fact that it looks like it was directed by a 6-year-old boy. Who’s addicted to meth.

Well, say whatever you want. Say time has passed me by. Say I just can’t appreciate a cheesy, thoroughly idiotic action movie, though there’s proof in the St. Petersburg Times archives that I actually enjoyed Blade: Trinity.

Say whatever you want.

But to hell with The Expendables.

Here’s what I’ll say: Over the years, we’ve let Hollywood erode our expectations for what a good movie should be to the point that we can’t tell anymore. We forget that brilliantly-structured action films such as Die Hard or Aliens weren’t thrown together at the last second to meet a release date; they were carefully crafted by top-notch filmmakers.

The Expendables, however, isn’t even as good as a lot of television shows. It does one thing right, sure: It feeds a fairly steady diet of action scenes, culminating in about 20 minutes of insanely violent, over-the-top carnage. And that stretch is admittedly fun. But it’s not much different–nor produced much better–than half a dozen straight-to-DVD flicks that came out this year.

What does The Expendables get wrong? Everything else. But before we get to what’s actually on-screen, let’s start with the completely full-of-it marketing campaign (which, let’s face it, was more important to everyone involved than the film itself).

Stallone’s idea to gather up the top action stars of the past few decades is an interesting one. That’s not what he did, yet that’s what he’s somehow hypnotized us into believing.

If you had to make a list of those action stars, who would come to mind? Certainly Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis. Probably Jet Li and Jason Statham too, granted. Who else?

Would you pick “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, a professional wrestler who’s barely been on the big screen at all? Randy Couture, a mixed martial artist who’s been on-screen even less? Terry Crews, who much better known for “Everybody Loves Chris” and low-budget comedies aimed at black audiences than any action role?

No, you wouldn’t even think of them. You’d think Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal, who were killing villains by the dozens on theater screens in the mid-1980s through the early 1990s before disappearing into straight-to-DVD schlock.

So why is Terry Crews in the movie? Because they needed a black guy, that’s right. (And that’s no knock on Crews, who actually is quite charming in his absurdly tiny role here.) If The Expendables lived up to its name, Wesley Snipes would be the black guy. That guy made a million action movies. (Just don’t tell the IRS.)

As for Dolph Lundgren: The only time anyone in the United States has watched a film starring Dolph Lundgren in the past 20 years is when a Netflix employee accidentally put the wrong movie in the sleeve. Thought you were getting Runaway Bride? Sorry, Aunt Louise, time to kick back with a little Dolph in the 2004 “comedy” Fat Slags.

And then there’s Mikey Rourke, which brings me back to the actual film. Rourke’s on the poster, sure. (BTW, here come the spoilers. I pray you don’t actually need a spoiler alert, as I pray you won’t line Stallone’s pockets by seeing this one, but whatever. Your call.)

Eric Roberts

Now, if THIS was the Roberts starring in Eat Pray Love, I'd be watching that sucker in a second.

But how many bad guys does Mickey Rourke kill in The Expendables? Exactly… none. He appears in a couple of brief scenes as a tattoo artist. That’s it. If you were dying to see him reunited with his The Pope of Greenwich Village partner Eric Roberts (who does his patented sleazeball act to perfection here), too bad. Their characters never even appear inside the same country.

It’s the same with Schwarzenegger and Willis–you’ve seen virtually their entire cameos in the commercials. (Whatever Willis got paid to actually appear on the poster, it had better be worth his soul.)

Finally, while the ensemble poster would have you believe you’re looking at the “kick-ass Expendables team,” you’re not. Like I said, Rourke isn’t part of the team, nor is Willis. (Arnie’s not on the poster, for whatever that’s worth.) Austin is one of the bad guys. Lundgren starts off with the team, then goes turncoat and becomes a bad guy seconds later. So basically the whole team is Stallone, Statham, Li, Crews and Couture. And the latter two have virtually nothing to do until the big, explosive final act.

As for the script? There is none. There’s no character development, no plot twists, nothing. Statham’s natural charisma gets him by, but Stallone looks and acts like a zombie, and not even an interesting zombie, while Li is given precious little to work with. (That’s not good when these three essentially carry the whole film.)

A fight scene between the diminutive Li and the Golem-like Lundgren should have been a highlight, but director Stallone shoots it so incoherently it’s a waste. The scene ends with Stallone shooting Lundgren in the chest. Mind you, Lundgren betrayed Stallone and his team, ratted on them to the bad guys, and just spent the past 10 minutes trying to kill Stallone and Li. So what do we see in the final scene of the movie? We see Lundgren, recovering from his gunshot wound, hanging out and yukking it up with the Expendables. Huh?

The incredibly choppy first two acts exist only to set up the third. And it’s fun, no argument there. Well, it’s fun if you like to watch bad guys getting their necks snapped and set on fire and even shot to death while simultaneously being impaled from behind by an enormous knife. And I must admit, I do enjoy those things. Stallone knows I enjoy those things, because it’s the only part of the film he gave any attention to at all.

But that’s sad, because Stallone actually dug himself out of the straight-to-DVD grave with a smart, heartfelt, character-based film, 2006’s Rocky Balboa. He wrote and directed that winner, and he co-wrote (with Dave Callaham) and directed this steaming pile. (In between, he also co-wrote and directed 2008’s not-entirely-terrible Rambo, which despite being “serious” was actually more fun than this.)

I understand why a lot of people liked the movie. Heck, I have several friends who liked it, including one I offended a bit by saying it was a movie for morons. (Okay, I actually said it was for guys who’d been lobotomized, but whatever.) And while I’m not calling everyone who likes this movie a moron, I have to say: That’s the intended audience here.

So maybe it’s quite as big a deal as when the President does it, but I’m taking a stand here. I’m taking a stand against The Expendables.

You love it? Go see it eight times. Marry it and start a family with it. Not me. I’m not expecting perfection from every movie, or anything halfway close. But I expect a whole hell of a lot more than this. So, in closing:

To hell with The Expendables.

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4 Responses

  1. lol. Amazingly enough, even though this movie epitomizes the type of hyper masculine, braindead crap that usually leads to me ranting and raving, I kind of had fun when I saw this movie. Which doesn’t mean I thought it was good or that I really enjoyed the movie on any level beyond making sarcastic jokes whenever the action stopped to showcase all the male bonding. I think it was just that the movie blew a lot of stuff up and after staring at Jason Stathan’s bald head for a while, you just want to see something blow up.

    Plus. Eric Roberts was tanner than tan.

    • you forgot to mention every scene had a body slam

  2. I like the movie…

  3. Before I get to the movie, let me say that I am a fan of Rick Gershman. (That probably means he has two). I didn’t know he had a blog until last week, when he posted a link to his yearly blog post (or does he post once every two years?) on Facebook. I only read the George Takei article until today. This caught my eye because I really enjoyed The Expendables. Now, I’m no meth-addicted six-year-old, and I’m fairly intelligent. I know a good movie when I see it, I appreciate filmmaking as an art form, and I have seen some real dookie on the silver screen. But, this film was enjoyable despite the obvious flaws. (Yes, that is possible). What the talented Mr. Gershman failed to acknowledge in his fine critique is that memorable characters, witty dialogue, fast-paced action sequences, and a nice dose of Jason Statham can take a mediocre script written by a mediocre writer and transform it into a fun and entertaining movie. Does every movie HAVE to have a structured plot, well-developed characters, beautifully-written dialogue and a plausible storyline? Nope. Some movies are just awesome thrill rides with kick-ass action and a few hot men. And that is okay. The beauty of art, in any form, is that it’s subjective. A few red dots on a white canvas may remind me of my least favorite time of the month, but to someone else, it’s breathtaking. (Most likely a crazy person, but I don’t judge). Not every film is going to be a masterpiece that wins awards and changes the world. That’s as it should be. If they were all good, would we even notice the truly special ones? Beauty only exists if there is ugliness, right? Alexander Dumas told us that. There is only the comparison of one state with another. We need insanely violent, over-the-top carnage-filled action films just as we need stunning works of cinematic art. If nothing else, it gives Rick something to rant about. But, really, this film is not all that bad. I am a huge Mickey Rourke fan; I have been for many, many years. Sure, he needs a plastic surgeon and a dentist (or at least some silly putty and a few Crest white strips) but he is great on screen, even if he doesn’t actually kick any ass. I’d rather see Statham and Li do that anyway. In this film, he delivers a monologue that is truly stunning coming from his lips. No one else in the film could have delivered it with such rawness, and that scene is one of my favorites (next to every scene that Jason Statham is in). There are some very well-executed fight scenes, a hint of clever dialogue, a few great explosions, and just the right balance of testosterone, adrenaline and heart. It’s not Die Hard, but nothing is, and nothing should be. Die Hard changed the genre. That happens even less often than Rick updates this blog. Action movies are what they are. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They are guilty pleasures and lots of fun. I saw this movie and left the theater feeling as high on life as I get, and the movie clearly inspired feelings of angst in our dear blogger. Good or bad, the movie made people react. That’s what films do. They make audiences feel. I started going to the movies when I was a teenager just for that reason. I fell in love with film because of its power to take me away from my weary life for a short period of time. A trip to the theater was my escape, and even if a film was a total crapfest, I somehow changed a little from the experience. It’s okay to sit back with peanut M&M’s and a Diet Coke and watch Jason Statham throw knives, punch people in the throat, and saunter around in that beret that makes me want to do very naughty things to him. So, it’s not The Shawshank Redemption, but it was a hell of a good time.

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