Old boys’ fight club
Sly Stallone & co kick, crunch and pound their way into pulp action history with this ultra-dumb adventure, writes Donald Clarke
YOU SO WANT to love this. Don’t you? It’s as if your late Uncle Bert and the equally beloved Auntie Maureen had risen from the grave and called round to join you in watching one more episode of Wanderly Wagon.
Look at all those haggard, chewed-over faces from the 1980s. Sylvester Stallone still mumbles like a faulty cistern. Dolph Lundgren is still working on his impersonation of a barely ambulatory fir tree. Mickey Rourke continues to oscillate between girder-chewing Japanese monster and kindly pantomime dame. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger appear for only an instant, but they do appear and they are still Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. You can go back again. Can’t you?
Well, it would take an utter rogue to deny that The Expendables offers the odd thrill and occasional giggle. Proceeding as if Team America: World Police never happened, Stallone – director, writer and chief Expendable – offers us a story about a gang of mercenaries and their cacophonous interactions with (no concessions to political correctness here or elsewhere) an evil central American dictator and his ex-CIA sponsor.
Early on in their mission, the team encounters a sultry, mysterious (and so on) young woman who turns out to be the daughter of the lisping despot. The plan ends in a hasty retreat, but, aware that the poor girl is being punished for their indiscretions, the gang elects to launch a second offensive. Get down! Cover me! You take point!
Could they not have tried just a teeny, tiny bit harder? Just a little? Just the slightest bit? Nobody was expecting Tarantino to write the dialogue. But something worthy of a third-rate Tarantino impersonator would have done well enough.
In the years since Stallone, Willis and Rourke were at their peak, the action industry has developed an ever more furious addiction to irony. Sadly, the tone in The Expendables is so shakily maintained that you are never sure how to view the thing. If we are meant to take the script seriously, then it is bad beyond the imaginings of, erm, whoever wrote Judge Dread. If the clunky quips are intended to amuse, then they belong in the same circle of hell as the screenplay for Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
And yet. It truly is heart-warming to watch Stallone pass the baton on to gruff Jason Statham. The eventual blast of Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back in Town does wonders for the surge glands. Just don’t go expecting anything that looks even vaguely like a good film.
Land of the lunks: Terry Crews and Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables