Stallone stars in "The Expendables."
More than a few movie pundits, myself included, have
questioned the value of movie stars in modern Hollywood.
Nowadays, it seems to be the franchise and subject matter
that matter a whole lot more than the movie star attached.
But three 2010 summer blockbusters have put forth a strong
argument to the contrary. The first was "Knight &
Day," the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz action-adventure film
that did better at the box office than initially expected. The
second was "Salt," the Angelina Jolie secret agent
thriller which received exceptional reviews.
The third and the best of the year's breed might just be
"The Expendables," the explosion of macho that stars
nearly a dozen of the most familiar male action heroes from
the last quarter-century. It's not just that they made a movie
like this that is noteworthy; it's how good this trashy little
diversion ultimately turns out to be.
This is a fun, fearless, ferocious escape and one that
proves that when scripts give their stars a chance to shine,
and the movie stars step up to the plate swinging, the result
can be an infectious home run.
A group of freelance warriors who have lost their
connection to righteous causes in favor of almighty cash, the
Expendables may be hardened, but they're not yet inhuman.
Leader Barney (Sylvester Stallone) regards friends and
enemies alike with a sad gaze (beneath strangely distracting
eyebrows). Knife whiz Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) is man
enough not to hide his hurt over a busted relationship, while
combat expert Ying Yang (Jet Li) is angling for a raise.
In smaller roles, Terry Crews and his biceps handle the
operation's biggest weapons, and mixed martial arts star Randy
Couture explains things like his curious little cauliflower
ear in fine scientific detail.
After the high-body-count rescue that opens the film,
Barney chooses to cut loose sniper Gunner (Dolph Lundgren),
believing that possible drug use and hot temper make him
The mission that wakens Barney's dormant compassion
involves the fictional South American island country of Vilena,
where a former CIA operative, Monroe, pulls the puppet strings
of dictator Gen. Garza (David Zayas, of the TV show
"Dexter"). Determining that if they take out the
general they'd be sacrificing themselves to save the CIA
embarrassing headlines, Barney and his boys turn down the
assignment. But then he meets the general's beautiful rebel
daughter, Sandra (newcomer Giselle Itie, suitably fiery), and
for the first time in years, money isn't everything.
The plot, though, really isn't the thing. What matters here
is the camaraderie and the action sequences that allow each
and every movie star his moment of greatness. The winking
boys-will-be-boys quality is at its most blatant in a scene
containing uncredited cameos by Bruce Willis and the
moonlighting Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger himself.
It's moments like this where my glee flowed unabated, and I
basked in the pure joy of seeing so many of our favorite
big-screen personalities tossed back together - in a show that
wasn't just about campy cameos but about hardcore action in
Will "The Expendables" win any awards? There's
not a chance. But here's an energized, light-hearted diversion
that I have a feeling will be making the manliest viewers
chuckle for years to come via late-night cable reruns and
bachelor parties galore.