MOVIE REVIEW: The Expendables



As a man, there's just something about a good brawny, brainless, "manly movie."  Guys can't resist them.  Give us guns, violence, and babes and you might as well bottle it as male kryptonite.  The manly movie may be cheesy with an incredibly implausible and dumb plot, but that's never the goal or the need.  All a manly movie has to do is deliver on the cool factor and the fun factor.  If the audience relished the fun and come out dreaming to be those manly characters, the mission was accomplished.

The editors of the popular movie review website Rotten Tomatoes recently concocted a list of the 15 "Manliest Movies" of all-time (link).  80's icons Sylvester Stallone (Rambo: First Blood Part II), Bruce Willis (Die Hard), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Predator) all proudly adorn that list, alongside older greats Burt Reynolds (The Longest Yard), Steve McQueen (Bullitt), Bruce Lee (Enter the Dragon), Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry), and John Wayne (True Grit).  While this reviewer thinks Road House with Patrick Swayze and Gladiator with Russell Crowe are glaring manly omissions, the roster is pretty rock solid.

Go ahead and add The Expendables to the honor roll of that list, just by sheer volume.  On paper, the casting seemed impossible with all of the egos involved, but writer-director-star Sylvester Stallone performed an amazing coup and was able to fulfill our wildest "what if so-and-so fought so-and-so" manly dreams.  If you've seen one poster or TV ad for The Expendables, you know what I mean: Stallone, Willis, Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham (The Transporter series), Jet Li (Once Upon a Time in China), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler, but more appropriately Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man), UFC Hall of Fame fighter Randy Couture, WWE star "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Terry Crews (TV's Everybody Hates Chris), Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV), and Eric Roberts (The Best of the Best).  Put all of those names above the title on one poster and the movie sells itself.  Throw in guns and a skull and you've got a destined winner.

As with most manly movies, the plot is secondary, or even lower, in the scheme of things.  First off, character names don't matter either, especially when they're as preposterous as "Barney," "Lee Christmas," "Gunner," "Tool," and "Yin-Yang."  Plainly put, Stallone leads of team of mercenaries (Statham, Li, Lundgren, Couture, and Crews) that are the best at what they do.  They meet up and hang out at a former comrade's (Rourke) tattoo parlor and garage when they're not aimlessly riding chopper motorcycles or flying in and out of foreign countries on a souped-up militarized version of the seaplane from Disney's Tale Spin cartoon.  Willis' "Mr. Church" (see, told you) contracts Stallone's team (after outbidding Schwarzenegger's "Trench," in a great cameo) to overthrow a fictional South American dictator who's generating drug money for a crooked ex-CIA agent (Roberts) and his henchmen (Austin and British martial artist Gary Daniels).

Does it really matter if I go on?  Nope!  All that matters is that The Expendables delivers on both the cool and fun factors necessary for a good manly movie.  The guns need frequent reloading (even if they don't get that) and the second unit production crew probably burned a hole in the Brazilian ozone with all of the explosions.  The splatter runs as thick as the tattoo ink, and the one-liner count is as high as the body count.  You wouldn't think all of those big action guys and their testosterone levels could coexist in one movie, but they do and each get their signature moments, spots, and scenes.  Coincidentally, that huge who's-who cast could have been bigger as Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Kurt Russell, and Wesley Snipes all passed on roles to join the ensemble.   What?  Chuck Norris wasn't available too?!

Overall, The Expendables is a nostalgic blast of updated 80's excess.  Hollywood doesn't make action movies like this anymore, and probably for the cheesy reasons they are what they are.  Action movies have been skewing to brainy and cerebral heroes (The Matrix, the new Star Trek, new James Bond, Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Dark Knight, anything with Ewan McGregor, and even Adrien Brody rebooting Predator) for a generation now.  Sorry, John Cena, you're two decades too late.  Sorry, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, you lost your manly membership with The Tooth Fairy.  Sorry, Mark Wahlberg, Sam Worthington, and Christian Bale.  All three of you mumble too much, can't fight, and don't use guns.  Given the ages of the stars involved here and that lack of modern meaty action stars, such a movie likely won't happen again, at least until the rumored Expendables sequel!

LESSON #1: DON'T MESS WITH THE BIG BOYS--  Like it needs to even be said with the big names involved here.  Like a "red-shirt" on Star Trek, Michael Caine's Nigel Powers monologued this notion best in Austin Powers: Goldmember.  If you are a random, uniformed henchman without a name-tag, do you really stand a chance?!  If the other guy even looks like a distant cousin of any of the behemoths on this movie's cast list, you better step aside before you get tallied up on the body count via bullet, shotgun, knife, neck-break, kick, or fiery explosion.

LESSON #2: THE ESSENCE OF TEAMWORK-- Having good teammates around you is essential in success at a high level.  They also watch your back.  Sometimes, all it takes is one good teammate to make a difference.  Batman has Robin.  Michael had Scottie.  Ruth had Gehrig.  In The Expendables, Stallone pulled his best Hollywood George Steinbrenner impression and has Couture, Crews, Rourke, Lundgren, Li, and Statham on his team watching his back.  Do you think he's overdoing it?  Nah....

LESSON #3: EVERYTHING'S OK, AS LONG AS IT'S FOR A GOOD CAUSE-- Our bad-ass mercenary team gets paid handsomely to lay waste to hundreds of soldiers and henchmen who are all somebody's father, brother, husband, or son.  However, they are instantly forgiven and empowered in their quest because the so-called, now deceased, "bad guys" worked for drug dealers and dictators.  Of course, right?  Put it this way.  You never see a Star Wars  Stormtrooper or Lord of the Rings Orc funeral scene or them getting their own "Army Strong" commercial, do you?