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Monday, 13 September 2010

The Expendables

Every now and again Hollywood tries to find out if one long-dead genre or another is ripe for a revival. They keep trying with westerns, the teen sex romp occasionally gets a push, and now we have The Expendables, in which director and star Sylvester Stallone assembles a cast mixing old 80s stars (Dolph Lungren, a cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger that is easily the best moment in the film) with the current crop of action stars (Jason Statham, Jet Li) and a whole lot of wrestlers / UFC fighters (“Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Randy Couture) and then throws them into a story best described as “let’s remake Commando, only with five good guys instead of one”.

In case you don’t remember Commando – and if you don’t, why would you be watching this – basically the idea is that a shady CIA type (a cameo from Bruce Willis) hires Stallone’s band of mercenaries to take back a small island from Eric Roberts, who is using it to grow drugs. By all the rules of normal film-making this is a bit of a mess, with just about every character getting zero character development, the plot stops and starts a couple of times before getting to the final island beat-down, Mickey Rourke of all people supposedly provides the films “emotional heart” with a deathly-dull anecdote about how he lost his soul (doesn’t seem to stop him picking up trashy women though) and the whole thing is seemingly set on a version of Earth where steroids occur naturally in the water.

Once everything starts exploding none of that really matters. The action is suitably over-the-top and ridiculous CGI-blood flies everywhere, bad guys occasionally explode, and all the main villains die twice (you know the kind of thing – one’s shot then stabbed, another is shot then dropped from a great height, a third is set on fire then set on even more fire, and so on), so there’s that to enjoy too. In the end this is no-one’s idea of a classic, and by today’s action standards it’s a flabby mess. But with everything else 80s’wise coming back in style, maybe it’s time for 80s-era over-muscled action to make a comeback too.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #481)

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