Sometimes, I feel guilty for having given a good — though not overly praising — review to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa (2006), a flawed, yet interestingly introspective film that yanked Stallone’s career from the muck of straight-to-video releases. In my own little way, I feel like I contributed to the raft of Stallone films that have come since — movies that are increasingly embarrassing for the aged Stallone and thoroughly awful for me to actually sit through. It’s a bit astonishing, too, since none of the things seem to make money beside the Expendables series, which are more of a sideshow of wrinkled, droopy old action stars than actual cinema.
The concept is fine, I guess — cart out a bunch of formerly famous action dudes, throw them in the middle of a bunch of explosions and let them punch things. Maybe have them spout off some one-liners for old-times’ sake. That sort of thing. The problem is that the movies are totally built on nostalgia, not just for the audience, but for the actors, too. This leads to men far too old preening far too often. The idea of Stallone as the ultimate badass has long expired, yet here he is, still trying to pull off being the sullen hero who can beat up all of his problems.
There is a bit of reflection thrown in to add the veneer of intelligence by adding all new Expendables to the mix, a crew of 20-somethings who want to do more than just punch people and blow things up. But besides adding Neil Young’s “Old Man” to the soundtrack, it all feels like window-dressing. And these new characters bring the added problem of a bunch of faceless, forgettable actors hogging up chunks of the movie. I’ve seen, for instance, Kellan Lutz in things before, but hell if I recognized him in this. The old guard at least have an amount of pop culture cache at their disposal that makes them recognizable. As much as seeing the mumblings of Harrison Ford has become perhaps my least favorite thing to do in a movie theater, I at least have a familiarity with him over random MMA fighters A and B. The movie’s action-movie-yearnings for days gone by makes these fogeys essential, and muddying the waters with a bunch of dull, uncharismatic unknowns drags the movie down.
This smorgasbord of actors does make for one point of interest, one that doesn’t make the movie any better since it inherently makes it uneven, but it is curious to see how all over the board these guys are as talents. You can see who built their careers on being charismatic and who just had big muscles. Antonio Banderas (especially when the film just lets him rip off Desperado (1995)) and Wesley Snipes actually seem to be having fun with this, and are welcome additions to such a macho picture. And while I’m happy to write Mel Gibson off as a crazy asshole and abhorrent human being, he does liven the film up as a scenery-chewing villain. They almost make the movie fun, but the rest of the absurd 126-minute running time is filled with pointless explosions and manly grunting that’s impossible to overcome. Rated PG-13 for violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language.