It feels mean-spirited to criticise The Expendables in the knowledge that for many cinemagoers, especially men aged between 25 and 40, Sly Stallone’s ensemble actioner will be the movie event of the year. Forget Inception, Toy Story 3 or the first of the final Potters, the chance to see 80s, 90s and Noughties action stars kicking butt in unison is enough to make some grown men weep.
And when it’s presented in such a defiantly macho package – replete with big guns, busty babes and biker rock – you can understand why Stallone could compare The Expendables to the Sex and the City films in its explicit catering to a gender. But that’s the problem. It may be catering to men, but the most idiotic males of all, Zoo and Nuts readers for whom a trip to the cinema need not feature a credible story, valid villain or actors with discernible diction as long as it’s packed with explosions and so-so one-liners.
There are moments in which The Expendables feels like the sort of pyrotechnic-heavy thriller parodied by Tropic Thunder, notably when an impressively staged final set-piece is undermined by three or four similar explosions, Randy Couture punching a flaming Steve Austin and Jason Statham appearing as if from nowhere - but also at the perfect moment - to deliver a fatal blow. The film revels in the conventions of the genre, with a former team member going rogue (Lundgren), a short Expendable who’s the butt of the joke (Li), a violent mercenary with a soft side (Statham) and a team leader for whom morals are more important than the big payday (Stallone). Fans of the beefcake heroes on board need not worry that the lesser names will be overshadowed as the script conveniently allows each member at least one action sequence, (though one of Austin’s leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, with the former wrestler cast as an evil henchman happy to strike a woman, a strange screenwriting choice given Stone Cold’s domestic abuse arrests).
When each star gets their chance to shine, it's everything you would have anticipated, though that’s not really a compliment. Statham takes down a host of romantic rivals before delivering a homoerotic quip. Li ducks and weaves his way through a fight with the gigantic Lundgren. Terry Crews is brandishes a laughably large gun to blow a dastardly general's henchmen to smithereens while Stallone and Statham combine for a ridiculous yet enjoyable sequence featuring a seaplane and a jetty of bad guys set alight from the air.
For action aficionados, the above probably sounds like manna from heaven and The Expendables comes alive in its frenetic, brutal and numerous set-pieces. Many of the laughs miss the target, but the biggest laughs come in quickfire fashion, as Stallone shares the screen all too briefly with his former Planet Hollywood partners Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, with the onscreen chemistry irresistable. But for viewers hoping for more than just a succession of violent fights book-ended by macho back-and-forth and a plot that’s something to do with an evil South American dictator, The Expendables quickly becomes dull and samey. A brilliantly delivered Mickey Rourke monologue (with the Wrestler sporting his Iron Man 2 hair) makes you wish for more acting alongside the action and when we’re exposed to so many fight sequences, severed limbs and exploding buildings, the film’s efforts to keep the viewer’s attention are as feeble as a henchman’s life expectancy.
Not that it matters. A promotional pull-quote promises “the most awesome action cast ever assembled” and with the nostalgia factor of a Stallone, Bruce and Arnie reunion and the appeal of their action heirs like Statham, The Expendables should easily recoup its budget and build an inevitable franchise.