The suffocating machismo of it all makes it tough to pick a place to start. First, the film is hideous. On a technical level, many of the shots are out of focus, smearing the ugly greens and browns into a muddy pastiche. The rest is soiled by awful CG that completely undercuts the entire eighties aesthetic. I’m trying hard to think of something less conducive to an action throwback than a half-dozen rifles with animated laser-sights firing bullets that spill digital blood—No luck yet.
Even forgiving the film its bland palette, cinematographic shortcomings, and near total lack of practical effects, “The Expendables” misfires on the single most obvious ingredient for exciting action—Compelling set pieces. It takes place, almost in its entirety, on a small South American island where there is a dock, a palace of some sort, and apparently nothing else. Those backdrops set the stage for some dismally choreographed shootouts where, despite the exotic locale and 80 million dollar budget, “The Expendables” maintains a consistently amateurish feel.
And for a movie positively brimming with A-List (or once A-List) action personalities, how about some personality? Ultimately, it doesn’t even register that Stallone assembled such a dynamic ensemble—There isn’t a single distinct personage among them. Sure, Jason Statham likes knives and Stallone prefers firearms, but that’s about where the definition ends. Anyone could have played these nobodies, and it reduces what should be the film’s sole distinguishing feature to mere stunt casting.
Regardless, there isn’t a flaw I’ve illuminated that would hold water if the film was even fun, but “The Expendables” is truthfully one of the most boring of the year. Call me desensitized, but I can only see so many torsos explode, so many fatal stabbings, and so many explosions before I start to yawn and check my watch. Action only works when there’s something at stake, and Stallone does his best Michael Bay impression in his flagrant disregard for that simple storytelling truth.
Nothing is ever at stake in “The Expendables.” Ever. Not one of the many protagonists is placed in even momentarily convincing danger, and with almost no story to back up the dreary killing, the action loses all dramatic impact. Stallone's assembly line slaughter has neither the gravity to make us care nor the creativity to make us squirm—Unless we’re squirming out of anxious impatience.
I’m not an idiot. I realize “The Expendables” is more “Grindhouse” than it is “Rambo,” but it fails even as a disposable homage to eighties action. It might be a class reunion of sorts, but it’s the kind where you end up sitting around talking about expired memories instead of making new ones. In recalling the cheesy charm of the decade that made him famous, Stallone could stand to do far more embellishing. He succeeds in making a film with an eighties mindset, but it’s a hollow, lifeless effort that completely lacks the charisma that makes those films memorable twenty-some years later.
Conversely, “The Expendables” would be forgettable no matter what unfortunate decade birthed it. And yet, here in the year 2010, this is the number one film in America two weeks running—I guess I just don’t get it. Everything I go to the movies for, and not just the frivolous stuff like story and character, is completely and entirely absent here.
Men of the world, if this is really what you find entertaining, then consider this my resignation.