3 of 5 stars
Rated R/103 min.
The first R-rated movie I ever saw was Die Hard 2, which my dad took me to see the day it opened at the Lahaina Cinemas. Some fathers and sons bond by sharing a beer, going hunting, attending a monster truck show or, I dunno, knitting a sweater.
To this day, I love it when my dad takes me to the movies, but there was something special about the day he took me to see Bruce Willis wipe out hundreds of terrorists and blow up an airport. Yes, it was ridiculous, but I was thrilled out of my mind and, when it was over, Dad and I were giddy. Twenty years later, Willis is playing a shady operative who hires the Expendables, a close-knit group of mercenary soldiers, to partake in a deadly mission, wipe out an evil fighting force and mostly just blow stuff up. Our heroes are played by Jet Li, Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, UFC Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote and directed.
As a movie critic, it’s my job to tell you that the dialogue has Stallone’s stamp of macho corniness and that the film is incredibly silly. On the other hand, my inner 13-year-old wants me to shut up, lose the attitude and admit that this has the biggest bams and booms of the season. We’re not just talking explosions, these are ‘splosions!
Whereas The A-Team had a similar set-up but was as much a parody as a muscular summer event, Stallone doesn’t wink at the audience (aside from a few one-liners) and instead has made the real deal—a fanboy-pleasing, a testosterone-fueled extravaganza. Stallone takes his familiar themes—underdog against the world, good versus evil, honor and sacrifice over fear and cowardice—very seriously. His personal obsessions with soldiers of fortune, exotic women and tattoos are also on display. At the same time, while it’s all quite violent, the gore never hits the outrageous level of Rambo. The toughest scene to watch is a mercifully brief depiction of water boarding.
It’s a pleasure just to watch this cast interact, despite the fact that many of them lack genuine acting skills. The charismatic Statham and a wily Rourke come off best. Lundgren has the most interesting character but he must have pulled an Ivan Drago and KO’d his acting coach. Li makes the most of his scenes, Crews’s gun makes a bigger impression than his role and Couture has one amusing bit where he explains his cauliflower ear. Stallone acts as the master of ceremonies, clearly relishing a chance to do what he does best alongside some of the genre’s most iconic figures.
There’s a highly touted scene early on where three of the biggest action movie stars in the world share the screen; I won’t give it away, especially if you haven’t seen the trailers, but will only say that it was such a fun, if brief, event to watch. So are the action sequences, the best of which has Stallone being dragged outside a plane, followed by a jaw-dropping combination of stunts, explosions and Statham’s sheer awesomeness.
It’s far from perfect and occasionally stupid, but it lives up to its stunt casting, which is saying a lot. Just don’t sit too close to the screen—the ‘splosions may singe your eyebrows.