Wussies not allowed.
I ain’t got time to bleed. — Predator
This is it. Men around the globe circled the date August 13th on their calendars and wrote the phrase MANCATION for emphasis. A mancation is a very special occasion that doesn’t happen very often. The reason is because of the change in how Hollywood does business. It happened when westerns became old fashioned and it has also affected today’s action films. During the ‘80s, the heyday of testosterone-driven action cinema, it was all about the musclebound hero kicking ass with brute force and taking out the bad guys with ridiculous means. Once Bruce Willis became a star playing John McClane in Die Hard, the everyman hero took the place of muscular specimens and would give way to actors who have no business being in an action movie. When a filmmaker casts somebody like the guy from The Pianist over Jason Statham to star in Predators you got problems. Thankfully, there are no artistic casting choices in any of the roles for The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone’s gonzo action flick full of machismo, absurdity and total badasses.
The Expendables are an elite group of mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Stallone). They aren’t a pretty bunch; years of killing for profit have taken their toil on the team. Wrinkled brows on faces made of leather, hands of stone with calluses on the fingertips. These are cavemen with guns instead of clubs. Do they spend time getting emotional in the heat of conflict? Hell no! And they don’t even bother to mention if they are out of chewing gum before getting down to the ass kicking.
Offered a job by the mysterious Church (Bruce Willis), the team heads down to a South American country to eliminate a dictator who is in cahoots with a rogue CIA operative (Eric Roberts). Now before you start rolling your eyes at yet another men-on-a-mission movie with a rouge CIA agent, his henchman goes by the name Paine (Steve Austin). That may be his name, but he’s mostly referred to as “this man.” Names mean very little in The Expendables. The ads have pounded their real names into our heads enough times that their fictional aliases are inconsequential.
The Expendables is a movie for men made by a guy who put an end to the Cold War with his fists, not nukes. It is 103 minutes of prescribed testosterone for males who may be down a quart. It is totally bonkers and it’s the kind of movie that just doesn’t get made anymore, at least with a Hollywood budget. The explosions are bigger and the gunfire pounds. The heroes don’t worry about smoke from the muzzle endangering the ozone layer. The Expendables is the reason why TBS had such a thing as “Movies for Guys Who Like Movies.” Now in its place are comedy blocks of House of Payne.
Stallone hasn’t made a cinematic tribute to honor the last action heroes; his film is a reawakening of the hero that charges hard and hits harder, of men who ride Harleys and not drive hybrids, and of men who throw knives to unwind instead of watching Dancing with the Stars. The film is violent and gory on so many levels that the phrase “action porn” may be warranted.
As adrenaline heavy as The Expendables is it isn’t perfect by any means. The cinematography relies on shaky-cam too much and the ADD editing style lessens the enjoyment of Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren’s mano-a-mano fight, which was mapped by legendary stunt choreographer Cory Yuen. The screenplay is lacking in one-liners and wit. Funny parts are there, but amusing exchanges are few.
These quibbles aren’t enough to sully the experience of this staggeringly violent film. The very first fatality in the opening scene sets the tone of what is to come. And after a series of shootouts and fisticuffs, it all leads to the big boom of the final act when the team storms the dictator’s mansion. The death and destruction inflicted makes Commando look like a fender bender. Bullets rain, bodies fall and one of the Expendables hurls a missile with his bulging arms. The entire sequence is the cherry on top of Stallone’s grizzled actioner. Had Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” been playing it would have been as viewed as camp, but The Expendables never enters into camp. It may push the limits in terms of carnage, but it also reaffirms why Hollywood needs action heroes who can piss razorblades without shedding a tear instead of somebody who can be both a “Big Momma” and a “Bad Boy.” Fathers take your sons so that they may understand what it means to be a man. Women are also allowed admittance but I bear no responsibility for anything that happens afterward.
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Notable Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, David Zayas, Giselle Itie, Charisma Carpenter, Gary Daniels, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke
Writer(s): Sylvester Stallone and David McCallum