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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

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

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