'The Expendables,' Living Entirely Up To Their Name

Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Sylvester Stallone

hide captionRocky's Got A Gun: Sylvester Stallone (right) returns to the big screen in The Expendables, alongside action-movie veterans including Jet Li (left) and Dolph Lundgren (center).

Karen Ballard/Lionsgate

The Expendables

  • Director: Sylvester Stallone
  • Genre: Action
  • Running Time: 104 minutes
Rated R for graphic violence, torture and crude language

With: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts

An ex-CIA rogue has taken control of a pretty Caribbean island nation, transforming it into a repressive narco-state. Who ya gonna call?

Well, the Losers might be available. And then there's the A-Team. Or maybe the Expendables. All three groups of ragtag yet invincible mercenaries are pretty much equivalent. In fact The Expendables' director, co-writer and star Sylvester Stallone might just as well have called his squad of grizzled bad boys The Interchangables.

If Barney (Stallone) and his crew don't exhibit much personality, it's partially because they're too busy fighting. The movie opens breathlessly on a ship in the Gulf of Aden, where the Expendables dispatch a group of ruthless Somali pirates. Depicted partially in low-def video, the showdown resembles a ultraviolent video game, complete with spurting gore and exploding flesh.

After the triumphant bloodbath, Barney banishes one of his team, Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), for lack of restraint. (Scruples; it's nice to have scruples. Though as it turns out, Barney's top lieutenants — played by Jason Statham and Jet Li — aren't exactly career diplomats; when the final battle arrives, they and the other Exes [Terry Crews and Randy Couture] will exterminate scores of soldiers with no more qualms than they might swat mosquitoes.)

In the lull following that pirate shootout, the Exes retire to their garage/clubhouse, a shrine to tattoos, motorcycles, '70s blues-rock and knife-throwing contests. (There's no visible "No Girls Allowed" sign, but it must be there somewhere.) This macho theme park is supervised by Tool, played by Mickey Rourke, who appears not to have showered since Iron Man 2. Don't get attached, though; his role is only slightly bigger than those of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who share one amusing, in-jokey scene with Stallone.

Statham's Lee is the one Ex allotted his own subplot: He's distraught because his girlfriend dumped him for being too mysterious and too absent. Yang (Li) is reduced to a Dagwood-like tagline: He's always asking for a raise.

Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Randy Couture i i

hide captionThe Improbables: Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone, center) is the most blandly named member of the Expendables. His compatriots include Lee Christmas (Jason Statham, left) and Toll Road (Randy Couture, right).

Karen Ballard/Lionsgate
Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Randy Couture

The Improbables: Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone, center) is the most blandly named member of the Expendables. His compatriots include Lee Christmas (Jason Statham, left) and Toll Road (Randy Couture, right).

Karen Ballard/Lionsgate

In a quick attempt to convey mercenary motivation, Tool reminds Barney of how they lost their humanity while fighting — he doesn't say for whom — in Bosnia. It's one of several weightless geopolitical references in a movie that treats current events as mere fodder. (Waterboarding? Yeah, that could be a cool scene.)

Barney may have left his soul in the Balkans, but he's about to get a nobility injection. When he and Lee undertake a scouting mission to dictatorial Vilena, Barney meets Sandra (Giselle Itie), a fetching young revolutionary. Her fervent dedication to liberty (among other arousing qualities) inspires Barney to lead a mission to replace the local strongman.

That means also tangling with the power behind the Vilenian throne, cocaine-peddling Yank James Munroe (Eric Roberts). His Munroe doctrine? Greed is good.

Eventually, the Exes arrive in force, butchering the baddies and setting off abundant petroleum-fueled explosions. As in most current action movies, hyperactive editing substitutes for coherent movement. Li brought along his usual stunt choreographer, Corey Yuen, but their joint efforts seem to have been wasted.

Instead, the battle scenes rely on brutality so over the top that it verges on the farcical. Essentially, The Expendables is a comedy, although one that elicits genuine laughter less often than chortles of OMG shock.

Next to the hopelessly inexpressive Stallone and the English-impaired Li, Statham emerges as the movie's principal wit. But the script furnishes him with only a few deadpan quips. Besides, it's no great accomplishment to be the funniest guy in a Sylvester Stallone flick.

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