Caught the Winnetka Pacific Theater advance screening of “The Expendables”. I thoroughly enjoyed the latest Rocky and Rambo movies and grew increasingly excited about this movie as the updates came in regarding who was joining the cast. Stallone had shown with Rambo that he could direct action, wasn’t afraid to throw in some over-the-top violence and this killer line up of names would certainly, in the very least, prove fun and exciting. As the film stands right now, Jean-Claude made a wise decision. Stallone set out to do a straight-up homage to 80’s macho action hero flicks. The problem is he sticks so close to that formula and makes no concessions for the changes that have taken place in the last 20 years, he actually creates a movie that suffers for its commitment to being a throw back with nothing new brought to the table. We all remember the hero who runs though a hail of hundreds of bullets and never gets hit, right? Well, even in the late 80’s we were already joking about how silly that was, yet here it is in 2010. Remember when every sexy female character was the victim who needed her man to defend her honor? Well, apparently there has been no evolution there either. The rag tag team of quirky, deadly and constantly bantering Mercs? Check! Now, I loved “Tango and Cash” or “The Last Boy-scout” or whatever Seagal spectacle was playing...back then...but today I want a bit more and I think the average audience member will too. I can always rent “Commando” if I’m feeling nostalgic. For those of you who like a good vs. bad rundown, here you go: The Good: Jason Statham will make it through this movie unscathed, retaining an appealing chemistry with the audience despite a silly subplot about his on-again, off-again girlfriend (Charisma Carpenter, formerly arguably hot in “Angel” and now in desperate need of the gym wins for least appealing or talented actress onscreen in recent memory. Her recent SyFy “House of Bones” is no longer her worst performance). Jet Li has the best comedic material, playing his size and ongoing money woes for a few chuckles, and he mixes that with some of the better, although too closely shot, fight scenes (totally blowing what coulda/shoulda have been a classic Dolph/Li smack down. Steve Austin was solid as an overly tough right hand to Eric Roberts’ over the top and totally generic bad dude I’ve already forgotten. Mickey Rourke, in the role of a wise, former Expendable with a heart of gold and a tattoo parlor, is as cool as possible with the material given. The music was mostly classic, known rock tracks and fit very well with the film…except for the ending action scene which was matched up to a horrible ripped-out-of-the-80’s sounding little ditty. Is Survivor still doing soundtracks? I don’t know if this will all make the final cut, but overall the music was just fine. Two standout action scenes are also worth mentioning: The first was a pier full of baddies getting blown to bits as the result of some creative airplane flying from Stallone and Statham, and the other is the ending siege on the standard issue bad guy fortress…pure cheese, but fun enough with some good arm breaking, stabbing, head dislocating, incinerating, shooting, more shooting, kung-fu, etc. I actually prefer the action scenes in the latest Rambo, but wasn’t bored here. The last “good” item I’ll mention is the hyped cameos from Bruce Willis and the Governator. It’s a short scene, maybe 5 minutes, with a couple of chuckles, and one solid, but far too expected, laugh regarding a certain character and his political aspirations. Not great, but “good”. Worth mentioning, Bruce looks good, Stallone looks good, Arnold looks like a grandpa…politics must be rough. The Bad: The humor was awful. Really, really bad. One of the bad guys in the beginning actually says “I would rather die than hear that joke again” after Dolph tells a nearly unintelligible bit o’ humor during a terrorist hostage pre-credit intro. The terrorist promptly gets shot and by the end of the movie, I wished I had chosen death over hearing the movie’s “humor” as well. He got off easy. The Expendables is chock full of the worst banter I’ve heard in years and that includes sitting at Denny’s at 2am next to a table of teenage girls. A few, very few, clever lines get out, but the hit-miss ratio will make the creators of “Meet the Spartans” look like geniuses. There was no sense of danger the entire length of the film unless you happen to be evil. Nobody on the Expendables team ever feels like they are genuinely in danger…Joss Whedon would have decimated this team by the midway point, yet with Stallone at the helm even a traitorous, unrealistically crazy-from-the-get-go team member who gets shot and gives a dying admission lives and is looking fairly chipper by movie end. I don’t think you have to wipe out the team, but the movie is called “The Expendables” so I was expecting a bit of weight to the violence..a sense that there are at least some repercussions when engaging in a war, but nope..nada. Maybe the title is meant to be ironic..ooh..clever Mr. Stallone. Also, it’s worth mentioning that there is absolutely no attempt to get a female audience. None. Sure, a few scattered females who like brainless, over-the-top action films will see this with arms wide open (especially if no new Twilight is competing against it), but for the remaining 99.9% of women you get female characters who exist purely as victims in a male dominated fantasy world..even the default “heroic” lead female is smacked, slapped, dragged, pulled, tortured and nearly raped only to be saved last second by the strong men of the movie. A perfect film…for 1985. If you use this, I believe I need a code name…call me “The Recruiter”
I was fortunate enough to attend tonight's screening of Stallone's 'THE EXPENDABLES'. While I've had the luxury of seeing many films before their official release, this is the first that really warrants from me an actual review. (Spoiler-free, out of respect for the film-makers.) First off, the hype and trailers which have been leading up to this film's release don't do it justice, by any means. For lack of a better term, this movie kicks ass. It is a nostalgic return to the classic action films that have been long forgotten in the CGI-obsessed era of film-making. Luckily, Stallone has re-invented the genre merely by re-uniting the actors who created it. The film is a magnificent culmination of everything you would hope to see in such a re-union, from the humorous and rival camaraderie, all the way to the ultimate show-downs between the film's main characters. While the action is of course worth seeing on its own, the film in its entirety is overpowering. And probably only something Stallone could have pulled off. The movie goes beyond being just a brazen action film, and I think the audience really appreciated all the intimate (yes, intimate) characterizations that play out in the movie. While Stallone (as the leader) shares a crucial bond with each of his guys, there's also a great team mentality amongst them -- as if they've all been with each other for a long time, have all seen the same shit, and are still somehow trudging on. Anyways, without spoilers I'd just be going on and on about the movie. But after seeing this, I couldn't give a shit about Avatar and James Cameron's smurfs fighting over a mineral. (All due respect, Mr. Cameron.) But once in a while, you have to see Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li and Dolph Lungren beat the shit out people. And for the most part, that was 20-something years ago, so it's about time... And to think I was almost late because I couldn't find a damn envelope. All worked out according to plan, luckily... Sincerely, D.