Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Expendables - Home Video Review

Release Date: August 13, 2010

Review Vital Stats:
Service: Xbox Zune Marketplace
Download Type: Rental
Picture Quality: HD

Loves: 80's action movies, 80's action stars
Likes: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li
Neutral: Eric Roberts, Dolph Lundgren, and all former wrestler/MMA stars turned actor

Hates: Bad 80's action movies

20 years ago if someone were to tell me that Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, and Mickey Rourke were going to be in the same film together I think I would have had the joygasm to end all joygasms. I had always wondered why these action film mega stars (mainly Sly, Bruno, and Arnold) never got together and made something amazing. They had the Planet Hollywood venture together and I knew they all had mutual respect for one another but I always thought it was such a shame that they never did anything to cash in on their combined fame. Now, after what seems like forever in an era when old franchises and their even older stars are being brought back from the dead on a constant basis we get what was supposed to be the Coupe De Grace of action films. Despite being a fine action film in its own right, it unfortunately didn't quite live up to those 20 years worth of expectations for me.

We start out with what appears to be a rescue mission out on the open sea. "The Expendables", which is what they apparently call themselves but never once is that word mentioned, infiltrate the ship run by pirates to liberate the hostages being held there for your typical ransom demands. The leader of the Expendables, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), demands that they take their money and be on their merry way but when that suggestion falls flat negotiations quickly turn into a fierce and fast firefight. That scene accomplishes two things, it sets up the dynamic of all the members of the Expendables and gives us some quick glimpses into what we can expect from each of them during the next hour and a half. Or so I thought...

Rourke hooks Stallone up with an "Expendable" tattoo.

The Expendables crew is comprised of six different individuals that each bring something unique to the table (including really cool G.I. Joe names). Barney is as mentioned, the tough as nails leader that has seen it all. Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) is the second in command, master of the throwing knife and the only guy we see with a life outside the job. Yin Yang (Jet Li) is the small guy of the group...oh and he does some martial arts stuff as well. Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) is the hulking out of control thug that is starting to lose his way. Toll Road (Randy Couture) is defined by his cauliflower ears and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) is basically defined by his main tool of destruction (and no that is not a metaphor). And let's not forget their contact/intel man Tool (Mickey Rourke) who tats them up at his local biker bar/garage. Together they form one of the most colorful bunch of mercenary types this side of Predator.

They are hired for their next mission by a man named Church (Bruce Willis in an all too brief cameo) in which he has them going to this South American Island run by General Garza (David Zayas). He rules over the island with an iron fist as he negotiates a deal with ex-CIA agent James Munroe (Eric Roberts) and his massive bodyguard Paine (Steve Austin) to open up business for some high quality drug fields on all the land he stole from the locals. Barney and Lee head to the island to do a little recon where they meet their contact and escort Sandra (Giselle Itie). They aren't there very long before the shit hits the fan and when they make their escape Sandra decides to stay behind for reasons unknown to them at the time. It isn't until later that they discover Sandra is the General's daughter but by that time they have already passed on the job thinking it is too much of a risk. But Barney can't let it go, he has too many ghosts in his past and thinks by helping this one woman that he will somehow rediscover himself. And despite his willingness to go it alone, his team just can't let their buddy hanging like that.

Statham and Stallone undercover looking for trouble.

That is the extended version of the plot, the shortened and more accurate analysis would be a group of badasses get hired to invade an island fortress and rip all the bad guys a new one. It is impossible to attack this film for its shallow and inconsequential plot due to its 80's action movie heritage. In fact, if you decide to watch this just put any idea of storyline or reason at the far back recesses of your mind. The film makes no compromises to be anything other than a full on balls to the wall action thrill ride and I think that is probably where my real disappoint with it lies. Screw the dam plot, just let me see Stallone and his army of beefcakes trample over anything in their path. The action is most certainly there but it is how the action is delivered to us that is the problem. This movie is like one giant tease, it sets you up in the best way possible and then lets you down almost immediately only to come back for the last act to totally rock your world. 

Without a doubt the biggest issue I have with the film is how it handles all the star power it has.While we do get one action set piece after another which keeps the movie clipping along at a nice pace it never involves the team. It is always either Stallone paired up with just one other member of his crew or we follow Stallone and Statham on their own. First it is Stallone and Statham going to scout out their next mission, then Statham must fight some basketball players, and then there is Stallone and Li getting caught up in a random car chase. Where the hell is the rest of the team? They are all there for the first ten minutes and then for the most part we do not see them again until the final thirty minutes of the film. Why couldn't the entire team go scout out the island together? Why couldn't we see any of the others outside the job? There is just so many missed opportunities to capitalize on the amount of muscle Stallone has collected here that it starts to become slightly annoying the more time they are all off screen.

Here's hoping that Bruce is the villain in the sequel.

I'm not saying that they all need to be front and center for the full length of the film but I just never felt like they were this well oiled machine that we are led to believe. Sure, they kick ass and blow shit up real good when the moment calls for it but we are never given any time to get invested with them. I am going to keep coming back to this but when I think of a team of elite badasses my mind automatically wonders over to Predator. That film is the perfect blueprint for how to create a group of ass kickers and life takers. It is clear that Stallone was trying to make a Dirty Dozen type of extravaganza with outrageous character types like those found in Predator and he definitely got all the right players, he just didn't know how to put it all together which is a real shame. I might have been more lenient if we got some really good villains for them to play off of but even that didn't live up to its potential.

The General they have to take out is complete weak sauce, this guy isn't even worthy to lick the sweat off their balls let alone be a threatening figure. When you got a group of complete and utter badasses like the ones gathered here the last thing they will find imposing is the laid back detective from Dexter. Eric Roberts can be a pretty likable bad guy in the right film given the right circumstances but this is not it. His slicked back hair, suit wearing, spray-on tanned baddie is as scary as a business man on wall street. The real insult though is his characters fate at the end of the film which is just a complete waste. At least Steve Austin got to go head to head with the likes of both Stallone and Couture but even then his demise is muddled by poor editing and some really poor CG fire effects. I am not entirely sure who could have been an adequate menacing presence in a film this stuffed with muscle bound tanks but I do know that what we got wasn't good enough.

Sigh...they couldn't find one good bad guy...really?

By this point you may be wondering if there was anything I liked about the film, if it had any redeeming qualities for me. Well, I can honestly say that I did really like this movie overall and think it is one of the best pure action films we have gotten in years. Stallone likes to use as much practical effects for his action scenes as possible and I love him for that. From the expertly staged car chase to the amazing flyby in a jumbo cargo plane resulting in dozens of military goons being blown up and/or flayed alive is a feast for the eyes because there is not one instance of silly CG trickery. That IS Jason Statham sitting outside the nose of the plane, that IS Jet Li in the back of that truck as it is knocked all over the place. I really miss that old school sensibility and Sly brings all back with his work here and it helps this film immensely.

Having huge explosions is never enough and thankfully we get some pretty awesome hand to hand fight scenes as well. And these aren't your typical match ups either, this is probably the one place I felt Stallone totally grasped the idea of having all these guys in one film together and how cool it would be to see them kick the shit out of each other. We get to see Jet Li go up against Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin beat the shit out of Stallone and then later go up against Couture. Finally we get both Statham and Li double teaming some poor military guys where they proceed to rag doll every single one in of them in glorious fashion that they come across. Those fights scenes, as cool as they are, are upstaged though by one thing and one thing only in the entire film, Terry Crews and his automatic shotgun.

Dolph is gonna make sure Li gets the point.

That thing is a beast, when he unleashes its fury on a group of baddies they literally explode into chunks of meat as he continues to fire away grinning the whole time. I have waited almost 25 years for another film to give me that same visceral feeling I got when Jesse Ventura unbagged ole painless in Predator and began to decimate everything that stood in his way. This gun is it, what a beautiful mess it creates when either tearing fools apart from its explosive shells or destroying guard towers in balls of fire. If there is one thing and one thing only I will take away from this film it is Terry and his gun.

I know I did quite a bit of bitching about the film but I really did like it in the end. Maybe it was impossible for anything to live up to the expectations I have had building up since my childhood and I shouldn't hold Stallone responsible for being unable to deliver the impossible. But then again there was just sooo much more that could have been done here and ultimately the lack of finesse on Stallone's part as the director and creator is what kind of soured me on the whole experience. And yes, Arnold's appearance was pretty cool and seeing them in the same room like that was like witnessing man-gods in the halls of Olympus but my god man, if you are going to go through all the hassle to get him on screen like that make it longer than a dam minute will ya? So this is gonna be a very mixed recommendation from me, if you wanna see how action films are supposed to be made then...


But if you were waiting for over 20 years to see this collaboration...


The Expendables (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)


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