“The Expendables” will seem familiar to those who, like me, grew up watching ‘80s action films starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, or Dolph Lundgren. At its core, “The Expendables” is an action-adventure piece reminiscent of war films in the tradition of “Kelly’s Heroes” or “The Great Escape” which also featured an all-star ensemble cast.
Stallone, who also directs, headlines as Barney Ross, the leader of a band of mercenaries that don’t care where or what the job is as long as the money is right. His highly skilled crew consists of some of the best action heroes Hollywood has seen since Schwarzenegger took office and 1988s “Rambo III” set the Guinness World Record for the most violent film ever made.
Jason Statham (“The Transporter”) plays the team’s second in command, Lee Christmas while Jet Li, Hollywood’s resident martial arts star, (“Kiss of the Dragon”), plays Ying Yang, the crew’s (you guessed it!) resident martial arts expert.
Also contributing to the squad is Terry Crews (“Friday After Next”) as the big gun wielding Hale Caesar and former UFC heavyweight champion, Randy Couture as Toll Road, the cauliflowered ear sensitive tough guy.
Two Hollywood (literal) heavyweights complete the gang. Mickey Rourke plays the insightful, reflective, figurative soul of the team. His portrayal of Tool, a retired team member, is in line with many of the heart touching roles (“The Wrestler”) that have marked his recent phoenix by reinventing his career. On the other hand, Dolph Lundgren, plays Gunner, a burnt-out, high-strung, amoral potential liability to the crew. Most will remember Lundgren as the actor opposite Stallone as Ivan Drago, the embodiment of America’s fear of the Soviet Union during the Cold War in 1985s Rocky IV.
The plot is basically an excuse for muscle bound, deadly weapon-totting good guys to dish out plenty of gratuitous violence while saving the day and by extension, saving the contemporary damsel in distress. In this case their female inspiration is Sandra (Giselle Itié), the beautiful idealistic daughter of a despot General played by David Zayas (“Dexter”). There are few surprises in this straight forward lock and load, aim and shoot action flick but there is plenty of clever (or corny) one-liners, common to the films of the era throughout the movie. Think of all the memorable quips of dialogue from the John’s (John McClane, John Rambo and John McClain).
Two thousand ten has been a year full of remakes and “re-imaginings” of TV shows and movies of the 80s including “The A-Team” which also starred a mixed-martial arts fighter, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. “The Losers” borrowed from the basic concept of “The A-Team” featuring a team of commandos on the run from the government. It could easily be argued “The Expendables” is essentially the same type of movie seeing how the crooked ex-CIA man James Munroe and his bodyguard Paine (“The Dark Knight’s Eric Roberts and WWE’s Steve Austin) are the same characters as “The Loser’s” Max and Wade (Jason Patric “Rush” and Holt McCallany “Three Kings”).
However, “The Expendables” is actually an entertaining homage to an entire genre of the same era of which it’s main star and director perfected. In fact, one of the most amusing scenes of the film (if only for the nostalgia) is one in which Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, three of the biggest action stars of the ‘80s share the screen.