Movie Review: Expendables
The fourth film in the Expendables franchise is a dispiriting affair, enacted by performers who collectively appear to be making a valiant effort to make the most out of a poor screenplay. The idea behind the series has always had potential — round up some beloved action stars of yesteryear and give them one more chance to ply their trade — but the expected fun has never materialized, with this latest entry lacking any sense of urgency, wit, or grace.
The set pieces are bafflingly edited. The visual effects exist at an embarrassing level of incompetence. The jokey banter is never funny, and the supposed camaraderie of these soldiers of fortune never emerges in either the screenplay or the performances, both of which are handled by director Scott Waugh (Need for Speed, Act of Valor) with seemingly the bare minimum of attention. Even the talents of Iko Uwais (star of the
amazing Raid: Redemption) and Tony Jaa are wasted here; in the Asian productions that made them stars, they had full reign to display their extraordinary physical gifts in hand-to-hand combat.
Hollywood movies, including this one, tend to jerk the camera around and chop up the editing so much that the audience never gets to see them do what they do best. (In the case of Expend4bles, this camouflage serves to hide the fact that either of them could take on Jason Statham and the rest of the cast with one hand tied behind their backs.) The plot, which somehow required the efforts of four writers, involves Rahmat (Uwais) stealing nuclear detonators from Qaddafi’s old chemical weapons plant on behalf of a shadowy figure known as Ocelot; decades earlier, Barney (Sylvester Stallone) came close to revealing Ocelot’s identity, so he’s enthusiastic when CIA agent Marsh (Andy Garcia) sends the Expendables to Libya to stop Rahmat.
They come close to accomplishing their goal, but when Christmas (Statham) has to choose between stopping Rahmat and saving Barney’s life, he chooses the latter. This leads to a follow-up mission to stop a tanker heading toward Russian waters, bearing a nuclear device and the aforementioned warheads, with Christmas’ girlfriend Gina (Megan Fox) taking over as leader of the Expendables, while Christmas is fired by disobeying orders. Naturally, he plants a tracking device on Gina so he can tag along on the mission anyway. The fight scenes lack adrenaline and, worst of all, Expend4bles forgets one of the principal rules of action thriller staging: when Christmas and the other Expendables are sneaking around the ship during the climactic sequence, the movie loses track of who is where in relation to everyone else, and without that information, audience engagement becomes that much more difficult.
Various team members — including Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Easy Day (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), and Galan (Jacob Scipio) — are supposed to have a good rapport, playfully busting each other’s chops, but none of their good-natured insults are remotely amusing or specific to what’s supposed to be their personalities. (There’s also the matter of Gunner, who spends most of the movie talking about his sobriety, taking a drink during the final fight scene; the film jokingly plays this moment like it’s Popeye getting to eat his spinach).
For all its efforts at humour, Expend4bles offers precisely two kinds of laughs: unintentional (seriously, the explosion effects and green-screen
moments in the Libyan compound sequence are hilarious) and unearned (the joke that lands best is a direct quote from another movie). The Expendables franchise presumably exists to demonstrate that action heroes of a certain age are not necessarily, to quote Danny Glover from Lethal Weapon, “too old for this s—t,” but these movies aren’t doing these elder icons any favours. If Stallone, Lundgren and company can pour this much effort into a script this terrible, imagine what they might do with some decent material.