The Expendables is not great fun, but it is fun, all the same—bad-movie fun, let’s say.
The very idea of Sylvester Stallone dragging himself and a host of slightly tattered action-movie guys back for another ramshackle round of explosions, muscle flexing, and over-hyped adventure has an exuberant ridiculousness to it that’s kind of appealing—in a half-cracked kind of a way, of course.
The title characters are a scruffy band of no-longer-young mercenaries who specialize in special-ops dirty work that the government can’t or won’t send its own special-ops guys in to deal with. They enter the film settling accounts with some Somali pirates, and then are sent on to do battle with a Latin American dictator and the rogue CIA agent who’s twisting his political tail.
That cartoonish political intrigue is only a pretext, of course, for some utterly predictable displays of macho movie action. And those obligatory action routines are the least interesting thing in this boyishly boisterous film. Stallone, Jason Statham and Jet Li all have their moments of muscular heroics here, but most of the action sequences in this movie are semi-incoherent cut-and-slash stews of thundering sound effects and flash-cut splinters of physical violence.
Several of the action segments look like fast-forwarded video montages, transparently faked attempts to create the impression of speed and energy in otherwise sluggish material. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger have cameo parts in a jerry-built scene that adds an extra fillip of self-parody to the locker-room jocularity that informs the dialog scenes, which, in a mildly surprising way, prove slightly more welcome than the spates of physical action.
The self-parody that is more or less unavoidable in a Stallone movie is more or less epidemic within the boy’s-club ethos that prevails among these guys. Only Statham escapes with his dignity intact. Jet Li, almost two decades younger than Stallone, comes off as the one adult in the bunch, but that doesn’t count for much under the circumstances.
The mixture of swagger and regret in Stallone’s character suggest he might be dabbling with a Clint Eastwood-style reconsideration of his movie persona, but it’s never more than a dabble. Mickey Rourke, a biker and tattoo artist here, is the group’s real sage, but—somewhat inexplicably—he’s not really part of the action.