‘The Expendables’ are a second-rate crew

Posted: August 12, 2010

Hollywood can no longer make guaranteed money banking on a single star, so it's started grouping them together.

A movie starring Adam Sandler, or Chris Rock, or Kevin James might be a gamble, but a movie starring all of them - "Grown-Ups" - is $150 million blockbuster.

"Valentine's Day" wasn't much of a comedy, but the combined box office mojo of Julia Roberts, Brad Cooper, Queen Latifah, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, and Jessicas Alba and Biel made for a nice haul.

The ultra-bloody action expression of this trend is "The Expendables," a sort of "Valentine's Day" massacre featuring Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarze-

negger, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews in a violent, second-rate mercenary adventure yarn.

Action fans should beware the bait and switch - Willis, Rourke and Schwarzenegger do drive-bys here, and show up only long enough to wink and disappear.

Stallone heads up the list of showcased players, playing a soldier of fortune who hires out his crew (Li, Statham, Crews, Lundgren, Randy Couture) for a CIA job to overthrow the government of an island nation run by a corrupt dictator and a rogue agent (Eric Roberts).

"The Expendables" is a lazy approximation of "The Magnificent Seven" - hired killers finding some moral reason to save an oppressed people - but the tough-guy atmosphere is severely compromised by the Botox and tanning salon measures used to preserve the aging cast. It borders on taxidermy. (Roberts gets the John Boehner lifetime achievement award.)

Really, guys. The salon treatment budget probably dwarfs that of "Eat Pray Love," and yields less than convincing results.

"Expendables" does get a good return on its effects budget. The movie makes good use of the digital blood showers that result from exploding heads and torsos. These grievous wounds are often created by Crews and his automatic shotgun, modified to fire miniature RPGs with each round. The weapon is the movie's most engaging star.

Alas, little money was left over to fund the screenplay, which is unbelievably bad given the level of talent involved. Roberts' character has purportedly taken over the island in hopes of producing cocaine, and in one early scene throws a tantrum because the coca plants have yet to grow. Later, however, we see bales and bales of refined cocaine stored in a castle, and are left to wonder how they got there.

Much ado, also, about the generalissimo's freedom-fighting daughter (Giselle Itie), who is coveted by both sides, though it is not at all clear why she's the decisive player in the island's future.

Or why she's had a falling out with her father, who's come to regret his partnership with Roberts.

"Some teengs," he sighs, "are just not worth dee monee."

For Sylvester and Arnold and Bruce, words to live by.

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