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The Expendables (2010)
DIRECTOR: Sylvester Stallone
SCREENWRITER: Dave Callaham, Sylvester Stallone
MUSIC BY: Brian Tyler
STUDIO: Lionsgate
RELEASE DATE: August 13, 2010
MPAA RATING: R
Who Edits These Action Films, Anyway?

Written by Chris Pandolfi

There was a time when you could rely on a bad action film to at least supply you with action. The Expendables, which is said to be an homage to the guy films of the 1980s and 1990s, doesn’t give you action so much as a blur of images chopped together so badly, you can barely revel in the violence they’re meant to depict. What’s the point in creating scene after scene of shootings and stabbings and explosions when the camera doesn’t linger long enough on the aftermath? Why take the time for stunt training when every punch, kick, and jab is at the mercy of lightning-quick cuts, each leading to all manner of odd angles that don’t really reveal the brutal maneuvering? Did director/co-writer Sylvester Stallone think the screenplay was ready to be shot? Even if it was ready, did Stallone actually believe the finished film was the best it could possibly be?

The Expendables is loud, violent, and frenetic, qualities I might have gotten into had the stunts been edited in such a way that I could actually watch them. I wasn’t seeing action choreography so much as a jumble of brutality and bloodshed. It seemed mangled, twisted, and deformed, like a fighters using his bare hands to punch solid brick walls. It’s not a question of meaning or theme or symbolism; I didn’t go into this movie expecting anything of the sort. What I did expect was to have fun, to be entertained by senseless yet well-photographed violent acts. Isn’t that what action films are supposed to do?

But wait, I haven’t even gotten to the story yet. That’s because there really isn’t one to speak of. At least, not one that could be considered important or even comprehensible. So far, I’ve established that there’s no good action to gawk at, nor is there a plot that can reasonably be followed. So what do I have left? The dialogue? Sadly, no; at times, it’s so awkward that it seems to have been borrowed from another screenplay altogether. What am I supposed to make of a moment early in the film when the title characters square off with a band of Somalian pirates, only for Jason Statham’s cell phone to start buzzing? Not only is this painfully unfunny, it doesn’t match the tone the scene had been setting up. The last thing this movie needs is a sense of humor. Give us all the blood and bullets and stabbings you want, but for the love of God, don’t try to get yourself off the hook by telling a joke.

The plot, as it were, centers on a group of mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Stallone). The other members of his team are given irredeemably dumb names, such as Lee Christmas (Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and Toll Road (Randy Couture). They all have their areas of expertise. After the situation off the coast of Aden very nearly goes awry, it’s decided that Gunnar – who just happens to be a sniper – needs to be kicked out, for it seems he’s too emotionally unstable to continue being an Expendable. He leaves, dejected, determined to show Barney that his decision was the wrong one to make.

In due time, Barney and his team are recruited by the secretive Mr. Church (a cameo by Bruce Willis) to enter a fictional South American country and overthrow a ruthless dictator. During this recruitment scene, we’re treated to a cameo appearance by Arnold Schwarzenegger, although it seems kind of strange, what with him being the Governor of California and all. This, coupled with his character’s long-standing rivalry with Barney, allows for the film’s one genuinely funny line of dialogue: As he exits the scene, Barney turns to Mr. Church and says, “He wants to be president.”

Back to the plot. In this fake South American country, called Vilena, Barney is driven to do right by their contact, a young woman named Sandra (Gisele Itié), although it’s for reasons I don’t think I should reveal. Barney and his team also learn that the targeted dictator, General Garza (David Zayas), is actually under the thumb of an ex-CIA agent named James Munroe (Eric Roberts), one of those wickedly evil caricatures that always has to say something witty before, say, shooting someone. Any connection to James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States? What about his 1823 introduction of the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that Americans would no longer meddle in the affairs of foreign countries, specifically in Europe? Never mind. At Munroe’s side are Wickham (Gary Daniels) – who’s a toff one, ‘e is – and Paine (Steve Austin), a gigantic brute of a henchman. They serve no real purpose other than doing all the physical things Munroe is unwilling to do.

Rounding out the cast is Mickey Rourke as Barney’s mission coordinator, Tool, a pipe-smoking tattoo artist. He represents the film’s sole engaging character, and he supplies us with one scene of such incredible emotion, dialogue, and depth, I’m tempted to suggest that it wasn’t written by Stallone. How could it have been when the rest of the film was relentlessly brutal? I suspect The Expendables will please fans of manly-man action, although they would have to be willing to get past the horrendous editing, which doesn’t do much to reveal the glorious bloodshed. Perhaps Stallone’s real goal was to reunite with Dolph Lundgren and give Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts an excuse to once again be in the same film (unlike The Pope of Greenwich Village, however, they share absolutely no screen time). I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same thing. Then again, I wouldn’t have skimped on the screenplay, either.


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