What happens when you take Sylvester Stallone, an action film legend whose career is back on the upswing, and put him in a movie with some action movie veterans and up and comers? I'll tell you what we should have gotten: A kick-ass movie that blew everyone away, highlighting actors that many have forgotten about years ago, while giving an opportunity for new actors to make their mark. What did we get instead? A poorly cut film that can hardly sustain the interest of the audience. Oh Stallone, where did you go wrong?
The Expendables is the name of an elite mercenary group. Led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), they take jobs that no one else will. As the film opens, the team is in the midst of saving hostages from pirates. When one of their own, Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) falls off the deep end, Ross decides to kick him out. Returning to the States, Ross meets up with Tool (MIckey Rourke), a former merc who now runs a tattoo parlor. He sets up a meeting with Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), who hires The Expendables for a job in Vilena, an island run by a puppet dictator. The island is run by James Munroe (Eric Roberts), an ex-CIA agent who has left to run a cocaine operation. When Ross and Christmas scout the island, they meet Sandra (Giselle Itie), and Ross falls for her. When Munroe kidnaps her and sends Gunner after the team, Ross brings everyone together to go to Vilena and take Munroe down.
The Expendables could have been a good movie. The story is a little generic, but the cast Stallone put together is great. Aside from the man himself, Statham, Li, Couture, and Crews make a pretty good team together. Unfortunately, we never get to see what that might be like, because the picture has no time for anyone but Stallone and Statham. Li does get a fight with Lundgren, but no character development. Statham gets a subplot with a girl that doesn't go anywhere, and Stallone's reasoning for going back to Vilena for Sandra is nothing but a poor rehash of the same plot device used in Rambo. The only genuine character moment is a monologue by Mickey Rourke in the middle of the film.
Even worse, the action in the movie is awful. It might not necessarily be poorly shot, but it's impossible to tell because the editing is so quick and so jumbled that it's impossible to make heads or tails of it. Even that might be forgivable if the only shots we can make out weren't filled with awful, awful CGI. CGI blood, CGI knives, CGI explosions, CGI everything. I know that The Expendables was shot on a small budget, but that doesn't excuse it from looking like it was made by amateurs, especially when Rocky Balboa and Rambo were both so good. The script isn't amazing, but you'd think Stallone would have been able to get at least the action right. Maybe there's a director's cut waiting in the wings to show us that the picture isn't as bad as it appears to be.
In its current form, The Expendables wants to be an homage to the outrageous action pictures of the 80's, but instead embodies all the problems with modern action movies. It's big and loud, but also incomprehensible and pointless. It has neither the outrageously over the top ridiculousness of Commando nor the emotional grounding of Rambo. Instead, it sits somewhere in the middle, a movie without a purpose, a cast without direction. There are a lot of names on the movie's poster, but when they're given nothing to do, it makes you wonder why anyone bothered.