Nick Nunziata: What happens if you put a bunch of veins in a room together with a powderkeg, liquid steel, a head razor, and an industrial sized keg of Muscle Milk and let a feral bobcat loose inside? The Expendables happens. A whole mess of action-types from four corners of the map with all sorts of different ways into the business are given free reign to kick ass and shoot big guns in a movie that is actually released in theaters? Sounds like a perfect snowflake. Actually it’s Sylvester Stallone continuing his run of returning to his roots with class, hot on the heels of the terrific and subdued Rocky Balboa and the sublime and subtle as the detonation of the universe Rambo. The premise of The Expendables is ripped directly from Fellini’s wet nightmares, a tale of tough men on a tough mission. Brown people perish.

Renn Brown: Nuts and muscles and guns. Half a man. Terry Crew’s goddamned biceps. Dead hispanic things. These are the impressions I’m left with from The Expendables. It’s distilled old-school rock and roll action, fueled purely by testosterone and the pain of random flunkies. This thing doesn’t just disregard sense and reason, it operates a braincell holocaust. In other words, it’s exactly what Stallone & Co. are selling. Few movies manage to deliver a product so specifically tailored towards a hunger that is so rarely quenched. That said, any hint of imagination was immediately murdered, ground up and fed to the incendiary budget. You’re not going to have your mind blown by any imaginative set-ups or interesting set-pieces, to the point that I would even suggesEXPLOSION. At the risk of sounding too negative about a clearly-sold piece of fun, I wouldn’t have minded a bit of logic written into the screenpFIST. Even just the tiniest hint of reality peeking into the political scenario would have have gone a long way towards sellFIREFUCKDEADMEXICANORWHATEVER. Okay yeah, fun. Action. Got it.

Nick Nunziata: I don’t mind the fact that the film is so threadbare it won an AVN Award. I don’t mind that it totally embraces the 80’s action movie aesthetic (and it so very much does) so tightly that Jeff Speakman fell out the side. What I do mind is that it appears that too much of the money went into the cast, because though it has some great moments, it’s not big enough to be a resounding success. The cast is a lot of fun to watch and there are a few moments where the proverbial gloves are off on a set piece level, but overall it feels like a really fun time with old friends peppered with some nice kills and a few moments where it dares to dream (the scene with the plane and Statham manning the machine gun being one of the high points) but not nearly the beast of burden the advertisements have billed it as.

Renn Brown: It’s not the ultimate action movie by any means. It’s not even the ultimate throwback either. It’s far more successful on both levels than say Predators, and it hits the marks it needs to hit, but one shouldn’t walk in expecting new levels to be reached, or new standards to be set. What you’re going to get from The Expendables is solid action, with fun guys being fun. There is also a classy self-awareness that I really appreciate reflected in the way the female presence is handled (“I got my ass kicked” also comes to mind). The biggest bummer was how inconsistently the more ground level, hand-to-hand action was handled. A fight between a man who’s the opposite of big and a man who’s the opposite of small felt too close and obscured for much of the fight, while there were some delightfully well covered moments in the brawling towards the end. Maybe Stallone was afraid his camera work would fall behind the times if he didn’t shove in too close and shake things up, but the amazing poundings happen when the camera steps back and lets the punchings speak for themselves.

Nick Nunziata: That said, there are some terrific fights in this movie. Stone Cold
Steve Austin (birth name Frigid Granite Stephen Austinwicz) manhandles
Sly Stallone worse than the acting skills of David Mendenhall in a
concussive fight that left one of them with a broken neck [hint: the guy
not named after chilly boulders
]. It’s a great scene and you feel every
punch. Additionally, a skirmish between Gary Daniels, Jet Li, and Jason
Statham has some great moments, especially the last one where a head is
abused in a manner that had the audience thrilled and cringing from the
implied pain. There’s an awful lot of 80’s gunplay where people pull
triggers and people fall down and are sad. That gets old fast,
especially in the wake of Rambo (my review), a movie where the intrinsic
mutilation of men was turned into Shakespearean triumph. Though The
Expendables
isn’t about men being smithereened to smashes, those little
moments of ultraviolence make up for some of the lackluster elements of
the film.

Renn Brown: And the explosions. Nice big balls of fire, and debris, and
henchman-leavings flying about through the air. There’s a truly
impressive number of good ole fashioned explosions in the film with a
high bar set mid-way through the film when Jason Statham makes a
horizontal 9/11 happen to a bunch of poor bastards on a pier. The final
siege more than lives up, with Stallone, Austin, Crews, Statham, and
Couture particularly excelling in the realm of dealt and received flesh
charrings.


Those things are lovely. The time wasted on building character
sympathy is not lovely. Li, Statham, and Rourke all bring moments,
stories, or even full sub-plots that are ineffective at best, painful
moments of wasted screen time at worst. While The Expendables wisely
skips even an attempt to engage your brain, it makes a rather flaccid
attempt to pluck at the heart-strings, and each time it stumbles you
want to look away and let it pass the same way you dutifully ignore an
old relative calling you by the wrong name. There is some chemistry
between certain pairs within the larger crew and in fact, had this just
been a buddy movie between Stallone and Statham I think we’d have a much
more satisfying film on a character level. However, what could have
been a sinewy Ocean’s 11 of pain simply can’t manage the collective
charisma to become a league of dudes you want to see fuck shit up. The
Expendables
, as a team of men, never rise above being a collective of
recognizable cameos to become something more. The action is all you’re
gonna get.


Nick Nunziata: I actually loved Mickey Rourke here, which is saying something because
I am typically not a fan of the man. His character brings a lot of warmth to
the proceedings and the film is at its best when it has the guys hanging
out and bullshitting. Of course, most of the dialogue is either male
posturing or little character points to make the characters seem almost
two-dimensional. Some guys are better at it, and some guys are Jet Li. I
love to see him with this group of guys, but there are times where his
delivery just doesn’t sell the comedy as much as it should have. That
said, we get Randy Couture’s origin story for cauliflower ear, which is never bad.

Yes it is. It’s always bad. Randy Couture’s ear looks like a Joseph
Merrick embryo.



This is definitely a film largely dependent on the baggage you bring
into the theater with you. For example, if you are totally into today’s
glossy, hypercut action fare then this movie might feel like a dinosaur.
If you are a fan of 80’s action flicks and still peruse the sort of
direct-to-video stuff that has kept a lot of these cast members in
business it’ll probably sing to you like an angel. It’s all about the
baggage. Randy Couture brings baggage that looks like a head-mounted
gargoyle colon.


Renn Brown: I mentioned it before, but the best thing in this film is the
partnership of Stallone and Statham. It’s probably why the movie peels
them off for a little duo adventure before getting focused on the group
again. Rourke fits in well when he’s around, but he barely survives
being saddled with the ineffectual, tone-deaf BIG SPEECH. Li was a fun
theoretical addition to the group (aside from making the attempt at
Action’s 11
even more pronounced), but his background is zzzzzzzzzzzz, and his
fights are inconsistent in their presentation. The direction isn’t deft
enough to adjust between camera styles that suit Li’s nimble work, and
the more powerful brawls of the bigger guys- things just get messier.
Dolph is a heap of fun, even if the logic of his character’s geographic
location and current allegiance are treated with less respect than Blown
Up Guy #34.


When all is said and done, Stallone insured himself against total
failure simply by assembling men who are fun to watch no matter what
they’re doing, or who they are pulverizing. Oh, to live in that parallel
universe in which Sly said “fuck it” and made a film in the style of
Jackass, that bounced between unrelated scenes of these guys shooting
and beating the shit, with no attempt at a plot. That would have been
something to remember.


Nick Nunziata: As it stands, there’s plenty to find comfort in. Dolph Lundgren’s
character arc, for instance. Only in a Stallone film could a guy go
from shooting men with harpoons to drugs and betrayal to bad guy
trying to impale an Asian to… well to the last scene he’s in.
The last scene with Dolph generated so much goodwill with me. It’s
just absolutely… Stallonian. I also love the fact that Eric
Roberts and Gigantic Plymouth Rock Austin are villain and henchman,
respectively. Even though Dexter’s lispy David Zayas plays the
military warlord at the crux of the film’s conflict, it’s all about
Eric Roberts and his bald meanie. Roberts is one of those guys who
can flit in and out of theatrical movies and always be somewhat
relevant, a fact that baffles and enriches me. I love the shoehorned
romantic subplot with Charisma Carpenter and the fact that Jason
Statham has a basketball battle. I love the moments where Stallone
says ‘screw you’ to the idea of PG-13 and has men transforming from
life force to puddles of surprises.



Even though there’s a little too much computer generated blood. Even
though there’s a fire effect that had me looking at my watch to see
if it was 1992. Even though the film has more holes than Tollbooth
Caan™.



It’s a seriously flawed film that is uneven at times but still
totally worth seeing and if I had a little Hollywood juice I’d issue
an imperative that every three years we had an Expendables
movie until Sylvester was gray in the biceps and on his way to the
Sleepy Village. In the 80’s we forgave serious flaws for those
little nuggets of gold. Today shouldn’t be any different.

Renn Brown: I don’t feel like it’s a sense of antiquity that’s going to drag down
The Expendables for people (at least, people willing to see it in the
first place). While I’m fully aware that I wasn’t even sperm during most
of the action movie Golden Era, I can still recognize what a classic
like
Predator is bringing to the table, and don’t need any sort of
context-tinted glasses to acknowledge its greatness.  Where as a film
like
The Expendables is notable only by virtue of being a throwback, not
by being a particularly good throwback. Kick this thing 25 years in
reverse and it would barely be remembered- just another footnote in
Stallone’s 80s career. Ultimately it’s fun, but the film just doesn’t
maintain the torque (or
Torque) to keep the wheels spinning through the
nasty potholes of the bland plot, silly characterization, and spotty
fight photography. Shit’s bumpy.




Nick – 7.5 out of 10
Renn – 5.0 out of 10