Movie News & Reviews

'The Expendables': A blast with a past

Jet Li, left, Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone star as part of a mercenary team (with issues, obviously) hired to take down a two-bit dictator and rescue a pretty girl.
Jet Li, left, Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone star as part of a mercenary team (with issues, obviously) hired to take down a two-bit dictator and rescue a pretty girl.

Here they are, "the real A-Team," the pride and joy of big, bloody '80s action movies, back for a last roundup.

The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone's all-star mercenary movie, is a deliriously retro ride into Reagan-era blockbusters. The brawn and testosterone drip off the screen as Sly, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Terry Crews and Randy Couture go out rootin', tootin' and shoot in' black and brown people in various godforsaken parts of the world.

It's a gonzo action film from a guy who has forgotten more about making action films than most of the filmmakers who followed him have learned. The brawls are bigger, the guns louder, the explosions more epic than in any other film this summer.

It's sort of an ensemble piece about mercenaries hired first to free some sailors taken hostage by Somali pirates, then sent to take down the dictator of a fictional Caribbean nation.

Stallone is Barney, the leader of the pack. All these dudes ride motorcycles. They get their jobs through a tattoo artist, played with a grizzled glee by Mickey Rourke. But they've just fired junkie gun-nut Gunner (Lundgren, one of his better performances).

There's a rogue American behind this dictator/drug lord. He's played by Eric Roberts, of course. Ex-wrestler Steve Austin is his muscle.

And there's a girl (Giselle Itie) who needs rescuing. Of course.

Here, for the first and probably only time, are Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, in one (pointless) scene together. Almost certainly for the last time, Stallone takes a serious licking, struggles to sprint away from bullets and bombs (dude has some hard mileage), and dreams of getting the girl.

Li is here for the "short" jokes. And short shrift. He gets only one decent martial-arts fight and one truck chase.

Statham, heir to the action-hero crown that Sly, Bruce and Arnold once shared, out-kicks and out-cools them all.

In the "to hell and back" 2010 mercenary movie sweepstakes, this movie's only real bragging rights over The Losers or The A-Team are in the body count. Both of those had fresher performances and snappier dialogue. The Expendables could use a lot more exchanges like this one, Statham to Sly: "Think I'll need stitches?" "Maybe." "I hate stitches." "Everybody does."

The shootouts are epic, but the stuff leading up to them is lame. The macho men deliver, but this is less an ensemble piece than Losers or A-Team — not that Lundgren, Crews or UCF fighter Couture could carry more than a scene each.

With Losers on DVD and A-Team on its way there, The Expendables feels disposable — a movie whose nostalgia isn't enough to make this 50.-caliber trip down Memory Lane worth the fake napalm.

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