Published at: Dec. 28, 2008, 6:20 p.m. CST by headgeek
Usually I don't write much about a movie before it's made, because I prefer movies that exist. Every once in a while somebody sends me a script like LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD or RAMBO, but I usually ignore them. I would rather watch the finished movie and not know what the original plan was. And to be honest I'm not sure how qualified I am to tell you about the meal based on the recipe. But THE EXPENDABLES - a Sylvester Stallone action ensemble picture where he will write, direct and then star alongside Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Forest Whitaker and Randy Couture - is a big fuckin deal among those of us who love the action cinema of the '80s and '90s. We can't help but dream about this one like nerds once dreamed of Star Wars prequels or new outfits for their limited edition Serenity dolls so they can act out what would've happened in the second season. So when Stallone's script fell into my lap this time I couldn't resist.
By the way I would like to take a moment to welcome A.B. King to the talkback. Welcome, A.B.
The ragtag team of the title are a group of elite mercenary badasses - at one point described as "totally prepared to die in a blaze of glory" - hired to take out a dictator in the South American country of Corza. I do not have an opinion on what's going on in Corza because I believe it is a fictional country, but if in fact they're real I'm against them. They got all kinds of human rights violations and shit. No good.
Of course, the mission is not necessarily what it seems, there may or may not be some doublecrosses and deceits, etc.
The Expendables never come out and refer to themselves as The Expendables, but they do sport tattoos with an Expendables logo. Their lifestyle is rough but they have a dark sense of humor about it. The leader of the Expendables, Barney (played by Stallone I assume) has a good way of describing their purpose: "We remove those hard to get at stains." They try to do the right thing, but the movie itself seems sort of uncomfortable with the idea of soldiers of fortune and with puppet dictators and CIA tampering in other countries. It's a fun action movie but not some jingoistic imperialist deal like I think some people assume.
While I'm sure Stallone did some research about how these things work in the War On Terror era, happily this is not one of these Greengrassian modern action movies that tries to seem completely reality based. This is a movie where a team of 5 can take on an army of 100, where armed men still sometimes engage in martial arts and fisticuffs, where many, many things blow up, where occasionally a character might have something sarcastic to say during combat. In other words, a good old fashioned action movie. An endangered species.
Barney is a very different character from Rambo. For one thing, his name is Barney. For another he talks in more than one sentence sometimes. He's almost a father figure to the team and finds himself always listening to other people's problems and trying to be supportive. The other character who gets the most screen time is the lovelorn Lee Christmas. He's supposed to be American but calls a guy "mate" at one point, which means he's played by Jason Statham. There's also Kong Kao, who will be played by Jet Li. He does alot of kicking, but is much more of a supporting character than Li usually plays. I do think it's a pretty good character for Li, though, because he gets some funny lines. He's an unhappy smartass, not the usual Li type of character.
(Of course for all I know Stallone is playing the Chinese martial arts expert Kong Kao and Li is playing the weathered veteran mercenary Barney Ross. I don't want to make any assumptions here.)
Those are the marquee names, but the actor I was happiest to see cast was Dolph Lundgren. Obviously it's cool to see the Balboa/Drago rematch (or reteam), but I'm excited more because I think Lundgren deserves to be on the big screen again. The DTV pictures he's been directing and starring in are surprisingly watchable, and physically he's held up better than almost any of the '80s and '90s action stars. He still has a super hero physique with his towering height and square jaw, but looks more interesting with some wrinkles on his face.
Unfortunately, if Dolph is playing who I think he is then he's only in a couple scenes. It's a small but crucial role as an Expendable named Gunnar who comes into conflict with Kong. Harry has already reported that Lundgren will be fighting Li in the movie, so I will reveal that they get to fight twice. Let's be honest, Li has alot to prove after being defeated onscreen by god damn Brendan Fraser in THE MUMMY TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR A FILM BY ROB COHEN. I mean, how the fuck does that work? That is unacceptable. So for him to face a guy who's actually a martial arts champion and nearly a foot taller than he is will be good for Li's rep. Also Dolph has a degree in chemical engineering, not sure if that is relevant.
We also know that Forest Ghost Dog Whitaker is in the movie. He plays Sands, a CIA agent tracking the Expendables. The Hollywood Reporter described the character as "devious" but in this draft at least he seems well-meaning. The same can't be said for the CIA character they're allegedly trying to get Sandra Bullock to play - she would be more like the bitch she plays at the beginning of CRASH and less like at the end when she's cured of racism because she fell down and broke her ass. Harry also reported that UFC fighter Randy Couture (seen in SCORPION KING 2 and more importantly REDBELT) would be in the movie - I'm guessing he's Paine, an American operative working for the dictator. If so it's a generic henchman role that will require little acting ability, but at least he'll get to fight Stallone.
There are also Expendables whose casting has not been revealed as far as I know. There's Richard, who is the gay Expendable. It's a plot point that he's gay, but they don't make any dumb jokes about it, he's just a member of the team. I'm proud of Stallone for that one. On the other hand, the black Expendable isn't much more than a benign Black Dude stereotype. He doesn't get enough characterization, but on the positive side he owns a restaurant, is zealous about tacos and has a name even more cartoonish than Lee Christmas: his name is Hale Caesar. I approve of that.
(Have you ever met anybody with the last names Christmas or Caesar? I don't think I have yet.)
The story is pretty standard, but if the movie works it will be partly because of the odd little touches here and there. I like that Barney is kind of a goofy old dude and doesn't try to be up to date at all. We're used to seeing Statham drive around in fancy brand new cars in his movies, in this one he'll be in the passenger seat of Barney's '56 Ford F-100 pickup truck. I don't think it specifies if the thing is restored or not, but I like to picture it as a real junker. You can't say Barney's poor though, because he owns a plane. When the guy hiring them asks if he has children Barney says, "I have a seaplane." He's pretty proud of that thing.
I have no idea if this is the final draft, but most of the characters are pretty lightly sketched. On the page I wouldn't say they seem like iconic action movie characters that we're all gonna remember, but hopefully the cast can bring something more to them. Like I said, it's a recipe. You'd hope Forest Whitaker could put a little spice on his role, for example.
Stallone does a good job of mixing up the location - they travel between the US, Mexico and Corza, which should keep it visually interesting. The action scenes, as written, are pretty good. There is variety, with action at sea, in a plane, in trucks, with guns, knives, feet, forearms, one-on-one and in a mob. My biggest hope for the movie is that the second Dolph vs. Jet fight will be much longer than what Stallone wrote down. As written it's way too brief. Please Stallone, don't skimp on that one. (Dolph gotta eat? I never did understand that "gotta eat" thing you guys like to write.)
Fortunately an action scene is often gonna be shot totally different than scripted. For the climactic "extraordinary battle scene" Stallone doesn't even bother to script it, he just writes:
"THE BATTLE IS ON!! WHAT ENSUES IS A REMARKABLY SAVAGE EBB AND FLOW BATTLE. TO DESCRIBE THE ACTION DESIGNED FOR THIS SCENE WOULD TAKE MANY PAGES, SO TRUST ME, IT'LL BE LIKE NOTHING SEEN BEFORE."
Maybe you can take Stallone at his word on that, or maybe he just wanted to figure it out later. In the screenplay Barney turns out to have a few tricks up his sleeve that I didn't expect, so maybe Stallone does too. We'll see.
I wouldn't say THE EXPENDABLES is a great script necessarily, but it definitely has potential. He's got a good backbone that now needs some charismatic performances and well-executed action sequences on top. We know it has a good cast and that the action in RAMBO was pretty good. So I think this has a good shot. I'm still excited.
In other words, "THE EXPENDABLES is a keeper!" --The Ain't It Cool News
p.s. Seriously, could somebody explain that "gotta eat" joke to me? Stallone's character says it in the script and I feel left out
p.p.s. Did you know there's a band called Balboa who only play covers of songs from ROCKY movies? BalboaBand.Com