Director: Sylvester Stallone Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren At least in marketing terms, Sylvester Stallone is some kind of genius. For this latest chapter in his ongoing mission to revive his 1980s action-man brand, the 64-year-old actor-director smartly enlists former screen rivals Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger to hammer home the point. Never mind that all three share only a single scene, looking like an awkward Planet Hollywood reunion meeting. The accompanying buzz has already helped make The Expendables a successful chart-topper in several countries, including the US and UK.
Stallone directs, co-writes and stars as the leader of an international gang of freelance mercenaries. Jason Statham plays his main sidekick, with Jet Li as comic relief and Mickey Rourke as a retired ex-colleague. Stallone's fellow Rocky veteran, Dolph Lundgren, plays the team's loose cannon. Money is their main motivation, but these modern-day cowboys are secretly sensitive souls too, guided by conscience and honour and the occasional doomed romance.
We first see Stallone's team cheerfully blasting a crew of Somali pirates to bloody pulp. Later, they embark on a perilous mission to a fictional Latin American island state ruled by a sadistic general and his shady business partners, a murderous team of rogue CIA cocaine traffickers. Endless gun battles, hand-to-hand fights, car chases and huge explosions follow. Ho hum. Stallone may be in impressively gym-pumped shape for a 64-year-old, but he still makes for a craggy, creaky, laughably stiff action hero. In their close-up shots he, Lundgren and Rourke all look faintly grotesque, like waxwork zombies. And yet, strangely, the script makes almost no mention of their elderly status. This is a shame because there is a long and noble tradition of middle-aged action stars addressing their advancing years on film, from The Wild Bunch to the forthcoming retired CIA-agent comedy, Red. Clint Eastwood was 62 when he made his masterful farewell to the western genre, Unforgiven. In other words, two years younger than Stallone in The Expendables. Call it ego, or plain clumsiness, but Sly certainly misses an opportunity for autumnal wisdom and self-mocking humour.
Then again, wisdom or humour of any kind have no place here. The Expendabless could have been a thoughtful reappraisal of Stallone's action-man screen persona, like Unforgiven, or a deliriously overblown pulp-genre reinvention in Tarantino mode. Sadly, it is neither. With its incoherent plot, wooden acting, clunky direction and excruciatingly bad dialogue, this noisy vanity project is more like one of those Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme B-movies that go directly to DVD.
Ironically, both Seagal and Van Damme declined minor roles in The Expendables. So they do have some standards after all. However, both Willis and Schwarzenegger drop in briefly to share a senior moment, the script's single lame attempt at audience-nudging wit. But that is not reason enough for you to waste your time and money on this groaningly clichéd, irredeemably moronic, lowest-common-denominator celebration of macho firepower. Needless to say, Stallone is already planning a sequel.
* Stephen Dalton