Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DVD Review: The Expendables

I've done some book reviews here and there, so I thought I would try my hand at DVDs.

Since this blog does cover things that blow up, I would start at the most likely candidate: The Expendables.

You may have seen the ads: this movie has practically every major action star in the last thirty years: Ahh-nuld (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Bruce Willis in bit parts, with main roles filled by Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgen, with Mickey Rourke fresh off of the set of Iron Man 2, if his hair is to be any judge.

When one starts viewing, you know from the beginning that this isn't going to be a great work of art, or even a lot of great acting. This isn't Shakespeare, but we can at least hope for something around the level of a good Schwarzenegger movie (remember those? I think the last one starred Vanessa Williams and James Caan).

If you're expecting a stellar review of this movie, turn back now.
(More below the break)
Simple premise: Mercenaries have been hired to take out Latin American Generalissimo #2, straight out of the main casting (David Zayas, more on him later).   Their local contact is ... the General's daughter (not to be confused with a Nelson DeMille film of the same name).  He is, of course, being run by Evil Rogue CIA Agent #1, played by Eric Roberts....

Where does one start?

The Expendables was marketed as the action flick to end all action flicks -- everyone was in it. As far as action goes ... the execution was poor.

This movie has none of the fun of a Jason Statham Transporter movie (which are obviously American attempts at making Jackie Chan films with a British accent).

This has none of the great directorial camera angles of a Jet Li film (the director: Sly Stallone).

In short, this has none of the elements of any movies made by any of these stars individually.  It has more CGI blood spatter than 300, and it was done better with Spartans. Heads came off, torsos exploded, people were blown entirely in half ... with one bullet.  Not artillery, not .50 caliber machine-gun bursts, but bullets. From assault rifles.  Not to mention, if they spent any more time showing the audience slow motion sequences, I was going to go postal.

In terms of character, the only one of this band of mercenaries with any development is Jason Statham, playing the unfortunately named Lee Christmas. After his ex-girlfriend (played by criminally underutilized Buffy the Vampire Slayer alumnus Charisma Carpenter) is beaten up by her current boyfriend, you have the obligatory "let's beat up him and his gang of friends" sequence.

There was an attempt to give Mickey Rourke a deep, spiritual, wise old gunslinger sequence, but that was screwed up both by the overusage of four letter words (a problem with the entire script), and that Rourke mumbled through most of it.  I like Rourke. He can act. But he was so obviously telephoning in this performance, the next step would have involved a speakerphone as he dialed it in from the set of Iron Man 2.

And the pacing ... God, the pacing was so uneven, it makes Quentin Tarrantino films look good.  The film opens with a shootout against Somali Pirates, and then there's a lot of banter, averaging at least two four-letter words per sentence.  The Statham dance sequence was thrown into the middle with little to no rhyme or reason to it, and then there was a car chase that was awkwardly introduced, and executed.  And, there was Randy Couture (some sort of MMA/UFC variant) giving a dissertation on cauliflower ear.  Then, we have a massive, twenty minute shootout and pyrotechnics party.

For the record: the tv show Burn Notice has better pyrotechnics.

As you know, I enjoy fight scenes in my fiction .... Stallone's camera work was such that I couldn't parse the action sequences with slow motion and a flow chart.  The camera cut to a different angle before any sequence of strikes or maneuvers could be complete, and I've played video games that flowed better. Even in the inevitable fight scene between Randy Couture and pro-wrestler Steve Austin, the entire sequence of events was incomprehensible.

Was there nothing good about this film? Nearly.

There was a good scene, and it involved the Planet Hollywood owners .... Ahh-nuld, Stallone, and Bruce Willis (whose acting instructions were "Act Like John McLane at the end of a very, very, very bad day .... with little grasp of the English vocabulary.") .  Willis, as CIA Agent "Church," wanted to hire either Stallone or the Governator for this mission. Schwarzenegger was given most of the exposition about the island nation and about Generalissimo #2.   Ahh-nuld concludes with "I'm busy, give it to my friend here, he likes to play in the jungle."

As the Governator departs, Church askes Stallone "What's his problem?"

Stallone answers, "He wants to be President."   .......  Yes, that was the best scene in the movie.

It gets worse.

Best acting in the film:

David Zayas (Dexter, et al), plays a nice, solid performance as the island dictator, but he actually has the most character in the whole film. He grows more and more conflicted about being the Evil One as Evil CIA Agent Eric Roberts hunts for, then tortures, his daughter, leader of La Revolution.

Next best performances?  Eric Roberts, who has played "evil guy in suit" so often he doesn't even need to get into character, and ..... "Stone Cold" Steve Austen, pro wrestler, as Roberts' number two man.

There was also an amusing dance sequence between Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren, following a comedy sequence I can only suspect Jet Li wrote himself ... that would explain why it was so amusing.

Short version: Rent Commando, or Eraser.  This is not the film you're looking for, move along.

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