Lower your expectations, action fans. The Expendables is most certainly not the second coming of testosterone-pumping fight films. In fact, it’s downright average.
While boasting a who’s who of past super and not-so-super stars, the focus of the story is devoted to mercenaries Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and Lee Chirstmas (Jason Statham) on a mission to take down a South American drug cartel and its dictator (David Zayas).
Ross mopes that his job as a mercenary has become — not is, mind you, has become — morally questionable and seeks redemption by rescuing the daughter (Giselle Itié) of his intended target. Christmas spends much of the movie stinging from a broken relationship, all due to his covert employment. Thank goodness the ex’s new beau is one-note and abusive, enabling Christmas to easily use his fists, muscle her back into his arms and exclaim, “Now you know what I do for a living!” It hardly explains anything, though; Christmas’ actions would only suggest the position of mentally deranged ex-boyfriend/attacker.
Some of the humour does work — in particular, the much ballyhooed meeting between Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. An underused Jet Li provides the best running joke, insisting that he be paid more because he is smaller in stature and therefore has to work harder. Mickey Rourke also comes off unscathed as the team’s manager and drive-in (and I do mean, just drive your motorcycle right in) tattoo parlor owner.
Still, most of the overly hard-boiled lines hit ears with the impact of a wood splinter.
There’s a decent car chase, and the climactic hand-to-hand combat is suitably bone crunching, finally giving some reason to cheer. Yet much of the other gun-toting action, explosions and blood squibs are muted by an overuse of poor CGI effects.
Most frustrating of all is the murky, dark (and I mean literally, dark) cinematography. This thing makes the night shots in Dirty Harry look like a Technicolor musical. Many character’s faces are at best dimly lit and at worst obscured oddly in harsh shadows, even during close-ups. Whether this was done on purpose is anyone’s guess, but the photography is distracting.
Destined to be quickly forgotten, it’s unfortunate that the participants couldn’t make more of their unique opportunity on screen. In the parlance of its characters, “Cliffhanger, this ain’t.”
2.5 out of 5