Director: Sylvester Stallone
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger
How bad can so-bad get before it stops being good? If Sylvester Stallone doesn't know the answer, no-one does. But he has a damn good shot at it with The Expendables, an action movie with a cast of manly men that most men dream of in their manly man-dreams. The Expendables are mercenaries - guns for hire with an emphasis on the guns. They have names, but they don't matter. What matters is that they have guns. Lots of guns. Dolph Lundgren's gun can literally blow a man into two halves.
There is a plot. It involves guns. The Expendables get hired to use their guns on evil General Garza on the Island of Vilena. He has an army full of men. Men with guns. So their guns go against the other guns, and people gun each other down, frequently pausing to reload their guns. Every now and then someone flies a plane. A plane with guns.
Soon enough, Sly meets a girl. She doesn't have a gun. She has breasts. So he (and his guns) decide to save her breasts. Mostly using guns. And explosions. They're important too. But in the land of men with guns, one man is king. And Arnie makes his cameo early on, in a church, a scene that sees him battling for screen time with Mr Die Hard himself, Bruce Willis. Staring each other out with knowing looks, it's one of the worst scenes ever committed to film. Which makes it amazing.
After trading cringeworthy banter for 5 minutes, Governor Schwarzenegger departs. "What's his problem?" grunts Stallone. "He wants to be President," smirks Willis. Dialogue isn't a strong point here. In fact, it makes a point of being terrible. As they fly away from an explosion that's slightly bigger than the others, Stallone offers a verdict: "That was good." Statham grins. "That," he proudly declares, "was a statement."
Like everything else, intelligence is secondary to the ridiculous action on display. Still, there's no denying the skill or budget at work - Jet Li flips and kicks, Statham's switchblade butchers a basketball team, and Terry Crews' gun literally mashes people into pulp. Even Steve Austin gets to show off his wrestling moves in a satisfying punch-up.
There are beats missed, though, like Mickey Rourke's melancholic monologue - inserted just to give The Wrestler's star something to do. The romance, too, between woman and Stallone is completely hollow (her contract probably states that she doesn't have to kiss him). The screenplay, co-written by Stallone, is drivel, but with limbs flying every which way the camera can point, it's harsh to knock a dumb movie down just for being dumb.
Is there an ironic tongue-in-cheek? If so, it's old, bumpy and sort of fossilised. Lining up its dream cast, The Expendables isn't a wasted opportunity, but one taken for granted. For 80s action fans, the movie knows exactly what it is. Or at least, everyone involved seems too, except for Sly. In between running slowly, looking angry and sweating profusely, you can't help but think he's taking this a little too seriously. Then again, for every second of Stallone looking serious, there's a shot of a black man holding a massive gun. And that's what really matters. The guns.
Thick, violent and incredibly butch, Sylvester Stallone has made the perfect action man's movie: a film so bad it's brilliant. If only he could tell the difference.