8/13/10

Review: The Expendables (2010)


Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables is a kind of hip, referential, silly, relaxed, somewhat overhyped movie which represents what should be a welcome return to action stardom for the multitalented film veteran. Eschewing many action tropes, and lionizing others, it's a simple, fun movie about chivalry and ultra-manliness which is ridiculous and kind of wonderful.

For all I know, Stallone already made this return with his most recent two films, Rocky Balboa and John Rambo, but I didn't watch them. The Expendables is pretty cool, though, and I hope it's a hit for him, it's good.

The Expendables is of course notable for the number of huge action stars in the cast. Looking back at similarly staffed films of the past, this can be a warning sign of bad things to come. But Stallone plays off of the action personae of his various players ably and intelligently, using their collective hundreds of years of experience in action films for jokes, meaningful monologues and dialogue amid the explosions, and more surprises.

The plot revolves around a band of mercenaries led by Stallone's mysterious Barney Ross (all the characters are mysterious). Stallone's worst films have featured him as a grunting dreadnaught plowing through pointless, boring plots with little emotional impact to accompany the explosions. Also, some of his better films. The Expendables is one of his better films.

Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, Dolph Lundgren and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin are all used quite well, but I don't want to say much more about any of them, because it's fun to see for yourself. I will say that Mickey Rourke is kind of priceless, as usual lately, Statham's charisma, as it has in a lot of his own starring films, goes a long way without straining and the already-spoiled Willis and Schwarzenegger cameos are funny and effective. There are a number of excellent fights featuring two or more of these dozen or so great action stars in opposition which make the price of a ticket seem so cheap.

I don't mean to overhype it myself too much. Three stars for me means a solid recommendation for anybody, not that it's a great all-around film. But it works on a few levels and subverts some conventions while providing solid, interesting, entertaining versions of others. It's worth seeing for action fans.

It's as bloody and gory, if not more so, as any war or action violence ever, so if that disturbs you, skip this one. If that doesn't bother you, it's light, slight, fun and fast. The soundtrack booms too much, this seems to be the hot trend in soundtracks, and like The A-Team, it has a rather unintelligible action climax which, in The Expendables, almost achieves the ecstatic, Zen level of boredom a lot of these sequences seem to be aiming for. The Expendables isn't really an A-Team movie, but it is better than The A-Team, which leaves The Losers the best A-Team movie of the year.

And I'd call it a Stallone action comeback, again, not having watched his last two. He's likable and cool in the film, he's likable and cool for making the film. He's been writing and directing and acting and having comebacks as long as anybody working, and he's still at it, and probably will be longer than some working now. This is solid Stallone. I thought he was pretty good in Spy Kids 3-D.

The Expendables is dumb fun, and also dumb fun from smart people, which makes it a little cut above plain dumb fun. Some of what may look like eccentricities, I think, actually points the way for action film plots in an innovative way. I did not expect to be writing that going in to the film. But ditching a lot of tired, lousy, technical explication in favor of just watching action characters' actions speak for themselves is usually right. The Expendables is smarter and more likable than your average bore, like, say, oh, I don't know, Salt. Or Assassins. Daylight.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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