Monday, August 27, 2012

Retro Review: The Expendables (Stallone, 2010)

The following is part of a series where I bring back some of my "older" reviews (those written during my 2004-2011 tenure at the now mostly defunct The Cinematheque) and offer them up to a "newer" generation.  With the release of the second in what I am sure will be a series of Expendables films, I take a look back at my review of the first of the budding franchise. My review of part 2 will be up shortly.


I believe I should preface this review with an opening warning shot of sorts.  What follows is my latest attempt at reviewing what constitutes as the latest attempt at filmmaking by that beleaguered, mush-mouthed icon of 80's uber-masculinity (and inexplicable two-time Oscar nominee!?) Sylvester Stallone.  How's that for some ominous foreshadowing?  In fact, how's that for some rather blatantly obvious (but one could argue, quite fairly come by) preconceptions?  Actually, Stallone can be good sometimes (his performances in both the original Rocky and Cop Land are much better than most of the nay-sayers claim) and he would probably be a fun guy to have a beer with.  But still, when it comes to the man's ability to create good cinema...ah well, we all know how that usually turns out.  But alas, here we go anyway.

I suppose as genre experiment, or even as homage of sorts (a nostalgia of the cinematically ridiculous perhaps?), Stallone's latest, The Expendables (proudly, even quite cockily, invoking John Ford's classic They Were Expendable), does indeed have its merits - albeit in the most ironic of ways.  A competently made movie (Stallone knows how to make a shot, he just doesn't know what to do with it once he gets it!) The Expendables, with its opening sequences of a dark night somewhere in the third world, thudding overbearing music sweeping along with the airborn camera, brings us back to those halcyon days of twenty years past when muscled hooligans shot, stabbed and head-butted the requisite dark-skinned bad guys into climactic submission by film's end.  So much is the nostalgia factor; one almost expects to see the long defunct Cannon Group logo shimmering its way onto the screen in all its steel-glared glory (the opening credits are done it that same cold steel font in a bit of extra homage).

There is a certain undeniable, if not embarrassingly so, enjoyment in watching this motley crew of, for lack of a better term, decades-gone has-beens (though thanks to The Wrestler and subsequent work, Mickey Rourke can probably now be taken out of such a generalizations), along with a gang of more contemporary counterparts, shoot, stab and head-butt there way across the third world.  Featuring Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, the aforementioned Rourke, Eric Roberts, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, Randy Couture (as well as uncredited cameos from Bruce Willis and an especially hilarious moment with the Governornator!) and Charisma Carpenter for no other reason than to throw in something good for all the testosterone-laden douchebags who are watching to jerk off to (if they are not already doing so to the oily-muscled, homoerotic biceps of the main cast of lunkheads), The Expendables makes a case for loving homage (what cold-hearted person can watch Sly and Lundgren interact without shedding at least one manly tear? - he said tongue firmly in cheek) but falls flat on its collective bruised and battered face when attempting to do anything even remotely related to storywriting.

Sure, its fun to watch these strange (one could say long dead) interactions so long after many of these stars have burned up like Icarus (and actually, Lundgren is quite fun here), but as far as putting together a coherent moviegoing experience, outside of some really kick-ass fun (and maybe that is all we really need), Stallone makes absolutely no headway here.  But then when one is nostalgic for such mediocre films as are being homaged here, I suppose it is an inevitability that mediocrity will again rear its ugly head.   Perhaps he should have taken a cue from Edgar Wright and went all out satire as Wright had done with his loving homage to the action films of the 90's with Hot Fuzz.  But then Stallone is nothing if not serious - which I suppose is kind of a sad fact of cinematic life.  Of course when it came to the final credits (where the Cannon Group logo never did show up!) I suppose it is rather inevitable that a film starring such a gaggle of 80's has-beens (there's that damned word again!) would end its story with Thin Lizzy shouting out "The Boys Are Back in Town".  Perhaps Stallone does have a sense of humour after all.

[Originally published at The Cinematheque on 08/21/10]

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