Aimed squarely at the generation who grew up watching action movies in the 1980s, The Expendables is ultimately a disappointing exercise in nostalgia.
The story involves a group of ageing mercenaries (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lungdren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture) who accept a mission in a South American dictatorship.
It has the well-worn tropes of a genre picture, such as a gang of misfits, swarthy villains and a damsel in distress, whilst combining screen personas from different sub-genres.
Principally, we have Stallone (Rambo), Li (martial arts), Statham (the Transporter and Crank series) and various tough guys associated with wrestling or UFC.
We first meet them on a mission hunting pirates in Somalia and they are soon hired for a mission in South America where they come across a dictatorship run by a general (David Zayas) and a ruthless former CIA rogue (Eric Roberts).
After initially deciding they want no part of it, their conscience gets the better of them when they feel they have abandoned the general’s rebel daughter (Giselle Itie) and decide to return for a final showdown.
In a sense this follows on from Stallone’s last two pictures: Rocky Balboa (2006) and Rambo (2008), which were designed for the star to revisit his most famous screen roles.
Both had a certain low-rent charm but The Expendables is a different beast: a sprawling, messy quilt of a film stitched together with little craft, wit or intelligence.
The whole project reeks of laziness: hire some famous action stars, blow stuff up and throw in some jokey cameos (notably Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger) and everything will be cool, right?
Well, it isn’t. For a film with a reported budget of $85 million, this looks and feels too much like the low-rent stuff Cannon Films pumped out during the 1980s.
Not only do we have some shoddy direction and editing, even the action set pieces are a let down. The use of CGI for blood, explosions and background is overused and often glaringly obvious, whilst the more reflective moments are cringe inducing.
All the women characters are walking clichés, either victims or frustrated partners, and the allusions to the real world – which include Somalian pirates and waterboarding – are clunky and out of place.
The best thing that can be said about the film is that the pacing is mercifully quick, although anytime the film pauses for some male bonding gags is often a cause for concern.
At the screening I saw, there were people cheering the opening credits as they popped up, as if this was a reunion concert for a super group of veteran action stars.
This of course is precisely the thinking behind the film, which is a curious hybrid: a low rent action film puffed up on steroids to resemble a modern action picture.
In effect, it is the first karaoke action film, aimed at a male audience eager to see stars of yesteryear kick some old school ass and blow stuff up all whilst winking at the audience.
Some have already said this is a male version of the Sex and the City movies, in that it is a familiar story with ageing stars, packaged for a specific demographic.
That is not a bad comparison and like those films there is a hollow, unimaginative core beneath all the elements that certain viewers will gobble up like comfort food.
Potentially, there is a sizeable audience for The Expendables, who not only love the idea of revisiting part of their youth but will also cut the film a lot of slack because it isn’t meant to be taken that seriously in the first place.
But this is part of the problem. It feels tired when considered on its own merits, but more so in a summer where we have already had two other misfits-on-a-mission movies (The Losers and The A-Team).
There has been a hunger for the 1980s in pop culture recently as a certain generation comes of age and hankers after its youth.
Pandering to this trend has simply spawned an action film as mediocre as those from that decade.
> Official site
> The Expendables at the IMDb
> Reviews of The Expendables at Metacritic