The Expendables

Movie Information

The Story: A group of mercenaries take on the military dictator of a small island. The Lowdown: Doubtful acting, clunky scripting, special effects that aren't very special -- yet in spite or because of all this, The Expendables is kind of fun.
Genre: Action Folderol with Carnage
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts
Rated: R

Wow. I mean that most sincerely, though not necessarily in a good way.

I can’t actually complain. I was looking for dumb, ridiculous and unintentionally funny—and The Expendables definitely scores high marks in all those areas. Indeed, it exceeded my expectations as concerns dumbness—and my expectations were pretty high. This movie actually goes beyond being merely dumb; it’s more like the nirvana of dumbosity. To make matters worse, the film also wants to think it has something to say. The logic here seems to have been that since Mickey Rourke can actually act, why not let him say some profound stuff? The flaw in this reasoning, however, is that Sylvester Stallone, the film’s writer/director in addition to being its top-billed star, provided the profound stuff for Rourke to say. Need I say more?

The movie starts with a bang (how else?), with Barney Ross (Stallone) and his crew of mercenaries, the titular Expendables, rescuing unidentified hostages from some unidentified, bloodthirsty pirate kidnappers. It’s not long before we get to witness the over-the-top demise of a pirate—all that’s left standing are the fellow’s legs. It’s that kind of movie. However, it must be noted that Barney has standards, since he refuses to let mercenary Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren, making the rest of the cast look like Olivier) hang one of the pirates. In fact, Barney cashiers him from the Expendables for being hopped-up and unreliable (yes, this plays into the plot, sort of).

All this is merely the preamble to Barney and company being offered $5 million to depose the military dictator of some island banana republic. The scene where the offer is made is the movie’s big stunt-casting moment. You know, the one where the founding fathers of Planet Hollywood—Stallone, Der Arnold and Bruce Willis—hold a board meeting and crack wise. If what you were waiting for was just to see the Big Three onscreen together, it’s fine. If you actually thought there’d be anything to their meeting, well, you’re watching the wrong movie.

The mythical island they’re concerned with appears to have a population roughly akin to what you’d find at a midsize rock concert. That recon duo Barney and Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) even think twice about taking the job—let alone that they later feel like they’ve got to high-tail it out of there, especially after they’ve single-handedly done in 41 of the dictator’s 200-250 soldiers—seems incredible. But, hey, the plot needs padding.

Barney ultimately takes the assassination assignment because he’s all a-dither over Sandra (Mexican TV actress Giselle Itie), a freedom fighter who also happens to be the daughter of evil dictator, General Garza (TV actor David Zayas). When the film finally gets around to tackling Garza and his even-more-evil American backer James Munroe (Eric Roberts), we encounter my vote for best plot hole of the year. The movie cuts from inside the seaplane carrying the Expendables, where Barney is switching the plane over to autopilot, to the whole gang then skulking around the island. Some autopilot, huh? The aftermath of the carnage finds the plane then tied up in the harbor, suggesting it’s a really stealthy autopilot, too.

OK, so while Barney and Lee were away padding the running time, Garza had a change of heart about being an evil dictator, mostly because Munroe tortured Sandra (though why, I do not know, since she knows nothing to justify being tortured over). Garza has even painted his soldiers in blackface emblazoned with lightning-bolt slash. “Now, they look like warriors,” he tells Munroe. (Actually, they look more like what you’d expect if David Bowie staged a minstrel show.) Garza’s idea here appears to be to wrangle control away from Munroe, but that doesn’t work out so hot. Then again, Barney and the boys are there on the island to set things right in a hail of bullets and a barrage of bombs—along with a giant container of dodgy CGI effects, most of them frightfully dark (perhaps to hide how dodgy they actually are).

Bottom-line: Was I entertained? Yes, though surely not as the film intended. Is The Expendables good? No, and that’s exactly why it’s entertaining. Am I recommending it? That far I wouldn’t go, though this movie does have the value of making Salt look pretty believable. Rated R for strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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6 thoughts on “The Expendables

  1. Dionysis

    I read this review late last night and found it so funny, I had a hard time finishing it. Too much!

  2. “Action Folderol with Carnage” sounds like the whmisically named house specialty at a movie-themed restaurant (the folderol might actually be falafel, but the carnage would have to be something in a heavy tomato sauce).

    I keep thinking a movie called “The Expendables” should really be about the truly expendable in cinematic terms: every courier with some vital McGuffin; the nasty old man who cut everybody out of his will; the sentimental grandma who starts coughing from reel one; anybody who knows something but can’t tell now, meet me at the bridge at midnight and come alone, etc. So now I’m miffed that they’ve already used the title.

  3. Ken Hanke

    the carnage would have to be something in a heavy tomato sauce

    Chili con carnage, of course.

    So now I’m miffed that they’ve already used the title.

    Well, unless they’ve trademarked it, you can still use it.

  4. DrSerizawa

    “The Expendables definitely scores high marks…”

    “Bottom-line: Was I entertained? Yes”

    “this movie does have… value” – K. Hank MountainView Express.

    Well, I’m convinced!

  5. Ken Hanke

    Well, I’m convinced!

    Funny thing is I’d more likely go see something with this quote: “This movie actually goes beyond being merely dumb; it’s more like the nirvana of dumbosity.”

  6. DrSerizawa

    I’d more likely go see something with this quote: “This movie actually goes beyond being merely dumb; it’s more like the nirvana of dumbosity.”

    Truth be told, so would I. I’m sure this will end up in my Netflix que at some point.

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