It’s rare in modern action cinema to see a man kick punch the guts out of eight other men on a basketball court while wearing white jeans. Irony-free white jeans. That’s the kind of world Sylvester Stallone lives in. His thick-necked warlords wear white jeans, drink beers while flying planes and they most certainly pound other men…in a straight way. Sly’s world is the kind of place where most of us wirey indie ponces would perish within seconds. Welcome to The Expendables. Much like a present-day Dolph Lundgren, it’s wrinkly, veiny, has weird speech impediments and biceps the size of Calor Gas canisters (if you were born after 1993, you don’t know what that means, idiot).
Effectively a badly written ’80s action movie, The Expendables has got something to do with a crack team of violent, ugly good guys versus sweaty, ugly bad guys. Happily there’s enough muscular dialogue, knowing smirks, snapping bones and stunt casting to make it just about coast through its – thankfully short – running time.
Sly has never been a good director. Rocky IV is the greatest movie he’s ever made but it’s certainly not the greatest movie ever made. Whatever shooting style is de rigeur at the time is the shooting style he adopts. In the ’80s, it was lengthy montages and soft focus emotion, now it’s edgy, handheld camerawork and lightening fast editing; a real shame when clearly skilled martial-arts performers like Jason Statham and Jet Li are strobed to the point of confusion. The intrinsic excitement one gets from a single-shot ass kicking seems to have eluded him in the 32 years he’s been directing. Instead, he seems to have fallen in love with the extreme-close-up-for-dramatic-effect method, which is fine if you’re photographing A-listers like Jude Law or Leonardo Di Caprio, but the impact craters on Mickey Rourke’s face are liable to make you sick up in your hand when watched on the big screen.
On the way to the knowing Commando-style raid on the enemy compound that makes up most of the third 3rd act though, there’s plenty to be savoured. The much talked-about Arnold Schwarzennegger and Bruce Willis cameos are terribly fun – not letting you forget, of course, just how utterly unconvincing Arnie is as an actor and a human being. Jason Statham gets away with the only real characterisation in the whole delicious mess and cements his standing as the closest thing we have to an ’80s action star in this age. And if character names like Hale Caesar, Toll Road (UFC’s Randy Couture), Ying Yang (Jet Li) and Paine (Steve Austin) don’t do it for you, then you really shouldn’t have paid your €10 in the first place.
Stallone’s first stand-alone hit – the Rocky and Rambo resurrections already had legs – in nearly 15 years should see these engorged Expendables roll up on their Harleys again real soon. Hey, Messrs. Van Damme, Norris and Seagal, put down that bottle of fake tan and PICK UP THE PHONE.