Tuesday 4 September 2012
(Simon West, 2012) For something so terribly cynical, theres something heartfelt and almost naive about The Expendables films. The plot points and cliches of characterisation they use are so lame and old-fashioned that - in the age of Michael Bay and "chaos cinema" - they feel strangely authentic in their attempt to reconnect with the spirit of the action movie as it was imagined in the 1980s. This film is sleeker, slicker and far less baggy than the original, stuffing in more action scenes, more old school action stars (adding Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme and new DTV hero Scott Adkins to the original roster) but containing them within a mostly-coherent plot involving Barney (Sylvester Stallone) and his team losing a mission objective and a teammate to Van Damme's villain (actually, hilariously called Vilain) and resolving to "Track 'em, find 'em, kill 'em." somewhere in an Eastern Europe where the women wear shawls and scarves and the men model flat caps. Along the way, other mercenaries randomly pop up, having happened to be in the area (Norris' Booker gets Morricone's The Good the Bad and the Ugly as his theme) and trade groan-inducing, self-referencing one -liners (one exchange between Schwarzenegger and Willis involves both "I'll be back" and "Yippee-ki-yay") while blasting mercenary bad guys with semi-automatic weaponry, often without bothering to take cover. One cliche of '80s action cinema this film lovingly embraces is the hero standing in the open, spraying bullets at bad guys. Director West composes his shots nicely and his sequences are clear, efficient, and often exciting, if never quite inspired, and the story gives all of the heroes something to do; Jason Statham gets a church-set takedown of a team of bad guys, complete with awful one-liner and a somewhat disappointing climactic one-on-one with Adkins, while Stallone and Van Damme have their own final bout, and Lundgren, Couture and Crews mostly get the comedic material. Jet Li pops up briefly in the prologue but gets one nice action scene involving frying pans. None of them are particularly good, but then they have little to do beyond posing and cracking jokes. As such, Van Damme, Crews and Lundgren perhaps fare best, suggesting some life beyond what we see onscreen. That they are all playing action figures is largely taken for granted; this films attempts at drama are perfunctory and brief, always rushing off to the next bad gag or massive explosion. On that basis, it is sometimes fun, but also a little too generic emptily slick, and unmemorable.