I’m not saying writer-director Stallone wastes the action ensemble of a lifetime but he comes perilously close.
With the ultimate lineup of contemporary action hero icons ever assembled, one would expect a nerdgasm of testosterone and buzzworthy scene-swiping. The Expendables only reaches the giddy intersection of meta movie coolness and gotta-see-it bad-assery once, when Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger join Stallone for some exposition and ball-busting, and even that scene has timing problems.
Otherwise, Stallone’s mercenaries make up a tough and sullen group that have vigorous knife-throwing competitions to unwind when they are not overthrowing dictators and liberating small countries. After Rocky Balboa (2006) and Rambo (2008), it makes sense that Stallone would extend his directing resume with something fresh and retro at the same time.
But he obviously listened to all the fanboys who thought Rambo’s ludicrously violent final act was the greatest thing ever committed to film because The Expendables ends in a similar way, with buildings crumbling, bodies exploding, limbs being hacked off and a series of increasingly brutal one-on-one fights. I may be wrong but they may have blown up the same building twice.
To be fair, Stallone knows how to stage big set-pieces and get the most out of small character moments. He’s also more comfortable in his own skin than ever before, so even when the script lets him down, he’s still in the pocket. Rourke steals his few scenes as a soulful ex-patriot fond of monologues. Roberts is just terrible as a wooden bad guy. An odd observation: I’ve never been more aware of Lundgren, Li and Statham’s foreign accents. Even though they have translated well to English language flicks in the past, they seem to be fighting the language as much as each other.
People have chided Sly about his slurred speech over the years, but he actually found actors who imperceptibly mumble their lines worse than any mangled dialogue spoken by the Italian Stallion. The Expendables should have been the all-star action movie equivalent of Ocean’s Eleven but doesn’t do anything the A-list thugs in Con Air didn’t do better 13 years earlier.
Even still, the movie was a huge international smash, and earned a sequel. (Lionsgate)
— DENNIS WILLIS