Finally, dear readers. Finally! I have seen a movie this summer that I did not enjoy. And unlike The Karate Kid, which I wanted to loathe but took me by surprise, I really wanted to like this movie. I’d been looking forward to The Expendables since I first heard about it more than a year ago, back when it was still set to include Danny Trejo and Forrest Whitaker. 2008’s Rambo established Stallone as the reigning king of ridiculous action gore. Put him with this cast and it’s guaranteed fun, right? Well, not quite.
“This cast” includes Rambo, The Transporter, Ivan Drago, Randy The Ram, Stone Cold, President Camacho, “The Natural”, and whatever Jet Li is famous for — not to mention Dexter‘s Angel Batista and Cordelia from Buffy. I knew what I was getting into right from the get-go, just by looking over the credits. And still, I was excited for it. In all of its ridiculous glory, no matter how terrible the acting, a film like this should still be fun.
And this one is not. I’d liken the experience to eating a jumbo bag of salt and vinegar chips. Sure it might start out nice, but halfway through your taste buds just go cold and numb, and your lips smack with a stinging pain that burns worse with every bite. The kills in this movie are salt and vinegar chips, and their bloody spoils are just as numbing.
I must admit, this was something of a new sensation for me. Never in my life has a film desensitized me to violence to the point where I didn’t even care what was happening on-screen. I lost the capacity to care about anything. It just didn’t matter. Nothing in this movie matters at all.
This is mostly because the film never offers you a reason to care about anything that’s happening. The plot boils down to Stallone striving to “do the right thing” in hopes of redeeming his murderous soul. There’s room for some honest human emotion in that story, but Stallone is simply not believable as a human being. I have no idea what his character’s name was, as it’s near impossible to understand his incoherent mumbling.
He just didn’t have a character. He lumbers through his own film like a sleepwalking sack of meat, and his obviously juiced muscles are unnerving to watch. This is pivotal, because while the film is sold as an action ensemble, it’s really a buddy movie between Stallone and Jason Statham. Rambo (or whatever) is supposed to be the main character, and it’s impossible to connect with him.
Surprisingly, not all the acting is bad. Mickey Rourke is given a rather ridiculous monologue, but pours enough of himself into it to create the only emotionally resonant moment in the film. Terry Crews and Randy Couture are great fun together, but unfortunately combine for less than 10 minutes of screen-time. The trailer spoils a pair of all-star cameos that offer the movie’s biggest laughs. And Eric Roberts is a perfect villain: a greasy weasel you can’t help but want to punch in the face.
But it’s just so listless. In the latter half of the film, the team emerges from a mid-level boss fight with new intel on their enemy. “Alright,” I’m thinking. “Time to raise the stakes before the final battle…!” But they never do. It’s as if the film couldn’t wait to get it over with and just skipped to the showdown.
I realize that more than half of the audience going to see this doesn’t need stakes for the movie to work. They’re here to see gruesome kills, and to that end, the film delivers. But that’s what I went to see too, and I found only boredom. During the finale, I couldn’t help laughing at what were supposed to be serious climactic moments. I guess I got what I paid for. Is it wrong to expect more? Maybe they’ll get Van Damme for the sequel.