Saturday, August 21, 2010

Neither Vital Nor Necessary

The Expendables [**]

Of course it was too good to be true. All these stalwarts of action in one place. Stallone working once again under the Millenium Films/ Nu Image banner that brought the glorious bloodbath Rambo to the masses a couple of years ago. Everything about this film should ostensibly speak to the action lover in all of us, but it doesn't really, except, as a roster of names, a wish in one hand and a pile of shit in the other.

The Expendables such as it is, is the story of a team of freelance mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Stallone leading et al) hired by Bruce Willis to take down the General (David Zayas) who overthrew the government of a fictitious Latin American country. A lengthy bit of surveillance and one action scene later Barney and his best buddy Lee (Jason Statham) discover that the real target is a former company man (Eric Roberts) who has teamed with the general to profit from the country's drug trade. We also learn that Barney and his men are more expendable than even the fact that Stallone has a tattoo that says 'expendable' implies.

In the action department, the film is a more miss than hit affair. Perhaps we should've known that we were going to be letdown in the first action scene. After Terry Crews' Hale Cesar blows a Somali pirate in half the film switches to night vision so the rest of the Somali pirates can be decimated in shades of pink and yellow, robbing me of the blood I have so rightly come to expect from films under this banner and from Stallone's brand of choreographed chaos. If this only happened once perhaps I could forgive it, but every action scene boasts a failing of one sort or another. Except a great car chase where Stallone and Jet Li are pursued by gunmen. It's exciting in a way that none of the one on one duals are. Perhaps the idea of having so many good fighters in one place is such a daunting task that the only sensible thing to do is to give the best tiny understated action scene to the prettiest guy in the cast, Jason Statham. Everyone from this film except Couture and Crews has been in a better action film at some point or another during their careers. I'll be fair here and say The Expendables is undoubtedly crushed by the weight of expectations, but it's not like the film only misses the mark by a little sometimes.

The one element of Stallone's pictures that remains present and accounted for since Rocky Balboa is the introspective nature of the lifelong bruiser who realizes he has one last good fight left in him. Perhaps, The Expendables lacks the finality of this realization (as evidenced by sequel talk after the film's strong opening weekend), but is certainly capable of observing finality in some way. Rourke delivers a stunning monologue about his final moments in the mercenary life while the camera zooms in on Stallone who looks haunted and saddened but for unfathomable reasons hasn't been broken yet. To be fair, if this were Stallone's monologue I think it would close the book on this character as well, but he's not ignorant to the way a certain kind of life wears on you and he feels the need to address it. So he gives moments such as this to his most seasoned heroes (Rourke, Lundgren) and they wear the moments that break them so very well. It should also be noted that David Zayas of Dexter fame plays the General and he looks so incapable of doing bad without a heavy heart that he endears in surprising ways.

I could probably say a little more about the failings of The Exepndables, how any attempt at humor falls as hard and unceremoniously as mythical figures often do, how if this film were a steak then Dolph Lundgren is the steak sauce it could use a little more of, but instead I'll take the performances of Rourke and Lundgren as an acknowledgment that sometimes when the war is over we're only left with shadows of our former selves.

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