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The Expendables is undependable

By Elvis D Silva
August 13, 2010 13:31 IST
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Elvis D'Silva reviews The Expendables

When the posters for a movie advertise its star cast as Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, Austin and Rourke, audiences expect a certain kind of film.

So naturally, a movie titled The Expendables and written, directed and starring one of the original 'hard' men Sylvester Stallone is guaranteed to be a testosterone fest. Right?

Ehh… not so much.

Mr Stallone cut his teeth on action cinema in the '70s and '80s. Back then it was alright to be angry about the Vietnam War, hunt Russian spies and undertake other similar violent activities in the name of heroism.

Back then the embodiments of good and evil were easily defined. Mr Stallone had characters like Rocky Balboa and John Rambo; Arnold Schwarzenegger had Conan and the Terminator (both bad and good); Bruce Willis found action fame and fortune as John McClane.

On parallel, less successful tracks, B-movie stars like Dolph Lundgren (who also played one of Rocky's adversaries) and Eric Roberts did a lot of work, even if they didn't get as famous as Stallone and his Planet Hollywood buddies.

So wouldn't it be fun to get all these action stars of yore to come together with the newer kids on the block like Jason Statham from the Transporter series, Jet Li with his martial arts skills and dependable muscleheads like Terry Crews and Steve Austin and make a movie about guys being 'men'?

Yeah, I'm sure this idea sounded really good on paper. Especially to a bunch of guys who have already taken one knock to the head too many.

Trouble is, action movies and audience expectations have changed.

Matt Damon's Jason Bourne was a conflicted hero. Even Batman, Spider-Man and Iron Man are flawed, and far from righteous. Things are no so far from cut-and-dried that even the American people don't believe everything they are told about who the good and bad guys are anymore.

And really, in these recessionary times, does it really make sense to burn all that fuel, discharge all that ammunition and blow up all those vehicles and real estate? Just to save one sultry Latina (Giselle Itie)? I don't think so.

How much of a throwback is this movie? Lets see, the characters have names like Lee Christmas, Toll Road, Paine, Hale Caesar, Gunner Jensen and Tool.

When the guys banter they make fun of each other's hair (or lack thereof), their accents, their political aspirations ("He wants to be President") and their career choices. Sure these are all lines of dialogue from the movie but the barbs are directed at the real life people who play these characters.

This is not to say that the movie is without its pleasures. The scene featuring the seaplane is pretty cool. As is the gun that Crews breaks out when things get a little rough for the good guys. Quite like Mr Stallone's approach with 2008 Rambo the blood and gore factor is pretty high. When a person gets shot parts of them get blown clean off. And if you like big screen explosions this movie has a ton of them.

Of the cast only Mr Statham exonerates himself well. That dude is totally the action star of the new century. And he makes it all look so darn effortless. Jet Li is cool but I just discovered that he throws like a girl. Mr Li, you should have kicked those grenades towards their targets, not underarmed them like Trevor Chappell.

That said, old man Stallone needs to take a leaf from (equally) old man Tony Scott's book while crafting an action adventure. There really is no room for gentle pacing in a movie that is advertised as being chockfull of badasses doing what they've done best for anything from the past ten to thirty years.

A little hyperkinetic editing might have helped mask the fact that the leading man, while still ripped and muscular, can no longer convincingly chase a plane on foot.

The best reason to watch this movie is nostalgia. That is also the worst reason to watch it because memories once sullied can never be repaired.

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Elvis D Silva in Mumbai