I know that I really should have hated The Expendables. For one thing, it’s a very, traditional, let’s-blow-up-Eric-Roberts-and-save-the-damsel-in-distress action film. Storywise — well, there really isn’t a story beyond a bunch of inarticulate, muscle-bound men blowing shit up. The Expendables is perhaps the most hyper-masculine film since Avatar, the type of movie that was obviously not made with anyone possessing a brain or a vagina in mind.
In short, the Expendables is the type of mainstream, action movie that — based on everything I’ve ever written on this site — I should have hated. But you know what? I didn’t hate it. I’m not saying that I loved the movie (because I certainly did not) but on the whole, The Expendables is a fun movie and sometimes, that’s more than enough.
The Expendables are a group of mercenaries, led by Sylvester Stallone and Jason Stathan. They are, of course, the best at what they do. They must be as their existence is apparently a well-kept secret despite the fact that they all have prominent Expendables tattoos and all they drive motorcycles covered with colorful Expendable decals. So, the question is — can you accept the fact that the movie tells us the Expendables are a secret even though they clearly would never be able to pull that off in real life? If the answer is yes, read on. And if the answer is no, please don’t ever talk to me because you probably lack a proper appreciation for the absurd.
Anyway, The Expendables are hired by Mr. Church. Mr. Church is played by Bruce Willis who, in his very short scene, manages to chew up more scenery than a termite in heat. (That’s a lot of scenery.) Mr. Church wants the Expendables to go to a poor, island nation and overthrow the military dictator. Or something like that. To be honest, I never really figured out what the exact mission was other than it involved blowing a lot of shit up.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention that Eric Roberts is on the island too. He’s a bad guy. You know he’s a bad guy because he’s always stopping the action to tauntingly explain his evil plans. (It also helps that he’s played by Eric Roberts.) Roberts is a bit of let down as a villain and its hard not to feel that his performance was basically made up of deleted scenes from The Dark Knight. Then again, in Roberts’ defense, he’s having to compete with memories of Jason Patric playing a similar character in The Losers.
If Roberts’ villain is disappointing, the Expendables themselves are played well enough. While Sylvester Stallone is hardly a great actor, he knows how to play an action hero and he brings just the right mix of self-aware parody and self-righteous fury to his role. His second-in-command is played by Jason Stathan who displays something resembling charisma for the 1st time in his odd film career. The other Expendables don’t get much to do beyond deliver a few quirky lines of dialogue and blow stuff up. One of them is played by Jet Li who dominates his few scenes even though he doesn’t really get to do much. Another Expendable is played by the Old Spice Guy who, according to Wikipedia, is actually a pro-athlete named Terry Crews. However, all of the Expendables appear to enjoy hanging out together. You get the feeling that they had a good time making this movie and, as a result, you feel almost guilty for worrying about stuff like logic or ambiguity.
The main selling point of The Expendables is that it apparently features every single action star in existence. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger gets to make a largely pointless cameo and deliver the film’s worst one liners while, in real life, the state he’s supposed to be running descends further and further into financial doom. While I recognized Stallone, Stathan, Willis, Roberts, Mickey Rourke, and Jet Li, apparently everyone else in the cast used to be someone at some point as well. Luckily, I saw this movie with my friend Jeff who got very excited as he explained to me who everyone was and why their presence on-screen was making all the men in the audience so positively giddy. To be honest, I think I probably actually understood a little less than a fourth of the information that Jeff provided me with but he was so incredibly cute trying to explain it all.
(I imagine I probably gave him the same look that he gave me when I attempted to explain Sex and the City 2 to him.)
As I explained at the start of this review, the Expendables is not, technically, a good film but it is a lot of fun. As opposed to the Avatars of the world, the Expendables is a movie that is at peace with what it is. There’s no attempt to try to fool the audience into thinking that they’re seeing a work of art. There’s something to be said for that type of honesty, especially when you consider that we’re approaching that time in the film season when every movie is going to be marketed as a sure-fire Oscar contender.
And if the film is a hyperactive overload of testosterone — well, it is what it is. After sitting through hundreds of films based on books by Nicholas Sparks, all featuring Miley Cyrus, Emma Roberts, or Amanda Seyfried haunting the beach all to win the love of some sensitive lifeguard eunuch, there’s something undeniably appealing about watching a bunch of guys acting like guys. Zac Efron might have the heart and soul of poet but can he blow shit up?