Plan 9 Cinema: The Expendables


August 17, 2011 by abbyo

“The Expendables” is an anomaly in the area of bad action movies. It contains every element that we love about movies that fail spectacularly. It even has the perfect cast: Stallone, Lundgren, Rourke, Eric Roberts, even Jason Statham. But it just doesn’t satisfy the way a movie like, say, “Double Team” or “The Transporter” movies do. It’s basically Sylvester Stallone’s big, testosterone fueled love-letter to manly men and the manly lives they lead, without an ounce of self-aware irony of believable dialogue to be seen. I’d try to add something like “no homo” here, but I don’t think it actually applies. Stallone does appear to be sort of besotted with the characters onscreen, and it’s a little weird.

Stallone and his company (which also includes Terry Crews, Jet Li and Randy Couture) play mercenaries. But not just any mercenaries. These guys have a code of honor. So, they’re morally corrupt soldiers of fortune, but morally corrupt soldiers of fortune with hearts of gold, as evidenced by Jason Statham’s attempt to propose to his girlfriend (Charisma Carpenter) and subsequent rejection/heartbreak. They may be manly men, but they, too, are vulnerable to soft and squishy feelings. Anyway, the gang is hired by a mysterious man named Mr. Church (Bruce Willis in a cameo!) to check out a South American country led by a dictator who’s actually being controlled by ex-CIA agent Eric Roberts. Their contact there is the dictator’s revolutionary daughter, who is, of course, hot. Kidnappings, gunfights, explosions, etc., follow.

Stallone’s fetishizing of these men and their lifestyle comes through in the production design and set decoration. These guys ride shiny, noisy motorcycles and drive custom cars that they aren’t afraid to destroy in high-speed chases. They have loads of badass-looking tattoos. They have regular sex with hot ladies, and enjoy fiercely loyal friendships with each other. The soundtrack is peppered with big, sexy classic rock songs by bands like Mountain and Thin Lizzy, songs designed to get the male juices a-flowin’. And then there are all those gunfights and explosions and clunky one-liners, like the one below:

Basically, Stallone is letting us know that these guys live The Life. They are the epitome of muscle-bound manhood, and every dude in the audience should aspire to be JUST LIKE THEM.

But here’s what’s wrong with that: no one should aspire to be like these guys, because these guys are jerks. Stallone tries to slip in the occasional bit of pathos, to let us know his characters aren’t without their battle scars, both physical and mental, but it doesn’t really work. For example, Mickey Rourke tells a story about having PTSD in Bosnia, and being so disillusioned with his job that, when he sees a woman standing on a bridge in Sarajevo poised to jump, he turns his back on her and allows her to commit suicide. This is a story that’s meant to make him seem like a tragic figure, but what it does is make him seem like a horrible person. Presumably, he didn’t save the woman because he was depressed, and didn’t see the point in living himself. But that does not make up for the fact that he ALLOWED A WOMAN TO DIE when it was easily within his power to prevent it.

This fetishizing is what keeps “The Expendables” from being the boisterous fun that it should be. Say what you want about movies like “Die Hard” or “Hard Boiled,” but those movies are successful because they have a healthy dose of self-aware ironic humor. John McTiernan and John Woo’s action scenes aren’t without their share of slapstick. Their characters are capable of making mistakes as often as they’re capable of mind-blowing feats of acrobatics and gunplay. Stallone’s characters don’t have that quality, despite the fact that one of them is Jet Li, who made his name in mind-blowing feats of acrobatics and gunplay. They aren’t funny guys. They aren’t even really smart guys, or exceptionally agile. They’re just guys with access to ridiculous amounts of explosives and ammunition.

Suffice it to say, I was really disappointed by “The Expendables.” While it is an over-serious, easy-to-defuse mess of a movie (which, in my book, is a good thing for movies of its ilk), there’s just not enough awful goodness to latch onto. Stallone didn’t make a movie that could be enjoyed by irony-loving bad movie aficionados. He made a movie that could only be enjoyed by the kind of people he’s portraying: manly men with an underdeveloped sense of humor, and a penchant for cars, hot ladies and big explosions. It’s too bad. I went in really wanting to love this movie. I came out wanting it to go away.

Random observations:

-I feel like “The Expendables” is poorly named. The fact that the group’s name insinuates that they feel their deaths aren’t important strikes me as a sign of low self-esteem.

– Randy Couture has to have one of the most ironic names ever, given that he’s famous for being a UFC fighter.

-It’s interesting that Mickey Rourke does everything he possibly can to mess up the good will he builds up in Hollywood from great performances in movies like “Sin City” and “The Wrestler.” He gets himself an Oscar nod, and what does he go and do? “Passion Play and this movie. It’s like he wants to languish in bad movie obscurity.

-Eric Roberts’ performance got me thinking: the life of a corrupt, extortionist CIA agent really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You get in it for the money, but you never get the opportunity to enjoy all that money, and even then, where are you going to spend it in a third-world country, really? It’s a lose-lose situation.


2 thoughts on “Plan 9 Cinema: The Expendables

  1. warren-j says:

    My only real concern with this movie other than what you wrote above (which was all spot-on, if I may say) was the lack of traditional effects. Where were the squibs and blood packets? The old-tyme pyro f/x or the prosthetic arms (which should be severed generously)? The bullet and blood shots in this movie were all CGI, and bad CGI at that. Stallone made an old-fashioned man movie with late 20th century special f/x that were beginning to look tired 15 years ago. For shame.

  2. abbyo says:

    Warren-YES! At one point in my notes, I actually wrote down “needs squibs.” Also, I found it interesting that their tactics seemed pretty dated, too. Very Vietnam-era, especially that bit with the plane early on.

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