With ‘The Ex­pend­ables,’ Stallone is back in ac­tion

Austin American-Statesman - - MOVIES & LIFE - By Michael Cieply

LOS AN­GE­LES — If ever a film, cin­e­mat­i­cally speak­ing, had noth­ing to lose, it would be “The Ex­pend­ables.”

Its genre, hard ac­tion, peaked in the 1980s. And the dozen or so bruis­ers in its en­sem­ble cast are even older, on av­er­age, than the women in “Sex and the City 2.”

“You’re pretty well limited as to how gullible peo­ple are,” said the film’s di­rec­tor and star, Sylvester Stallone.

Stallone, who is 63, was re­fer­ring to what he called “the age fac­tor” and his own re­turn to an ac­tion role, this time as Bar­ney Ross, a mer­ce­nary who shoots to kill but will do it by hand if he must.

Yet “The Ex­pend­ables,” a rel­a­tively high-bud­get pro­duc­tion from the usu­ally low-bud­get op­er­a­tors Nu Im­age and Mil­len­nium Films, is be­gin­ning to look like a po­ten­tial late-sum­mer win­ner for Lion­s­gate, which is set to re­lease it Aug. 13, af­ter a big pro­mo­tional push at the Comic-Con In­ter­na­tional fan con­ven­tion in late July.

An early me­dia screen­ing at Lion­s­gate’s Santa Mon­ica head­quar­ters last week drew a full house and whoops in all the right places as Stallone led his team of hired guns on a

From left, Ja­son Statham, Sylvester Stallone and Randy Cou­ture star in ‘The Ex­pend­ables.’ mis­sion to a drug-in­fested is­land.

Stuff explodes. Men die. Cigars are smoked in (short) con­tem­pla­tive mo­ments in a movie whose script is cred­ited to David Cal­la­ham and Stallone but that owes much to prece­dents like “The Pro­fes­sion­als,” “The Wild Bunch” and “The Dirty Dozen.”

The cast matches older stars Stallone, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lund­gren, Eric Roberts and, in a dual cameo, Bruce Wil­lis and Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger — all over 50 — with some slightly younger ones.

Those in­clude mar­tial arts ex­pert Jet Li, along with the fight-and wrestling-cir­cuit cham­pi­ons Randy Cou­ture and Steve Austin, and an NFL vet­eran, Terry Crews, all in their 40s. At 37, Bri­tish tough- guy Ja­son Statham, whose cred­its in­clude “Crank” and “Re­volver,” is the baby.

In a com­pli­cated bit of deal­mak­ing, the “Ex­pend­ables” ti­tle was wran­gled from an­other project at Warner Broth­ers, where the cur­rent film, then called “Bar­row,” was born about six years ago in a pitch by Cal­la­ham, who was work­ing with pro­duc­ers Basil Iwanyk of Thun­der Road Pic­tures and Guy­mon Casady of Man­age­ment 360.

The idea was to make an old­fash­ioned ac­tion movie about sol­diers of for­tune, “back when ‘mer­ce­nary’ wasn’t such a dirty word” be­cause of pri­vate contractors’ deal­ings in Iraq, said Iwanyk.

In the 1980s and early ’90s, Warner was some­thing of an ac­tion fac­tory, churn­ing out dozens of heav­ily armed hits such as the “Lethal Weapon” films along with Stallone ve­hi­cles “As­sas­sins,” “The Spe­cial­ist” and “De­mo­li­tion Man.”

As the stu­dio turned to­ward fan­tasies like “Harry Pot­ter” and re­booted su­per­heroes like Bat­man in “The Dark Knight,” how­ever, it lost in­ter­est in sim­ple grit and let “The Ex­pend- ables” go to Nu Im­age and Mil­len­nium with Stallone, whose idea from the be­gin­ning was to make a throw­back.

“I would sure like to bring the genre back a lit­tle bit, so some young guys could pick up the ban­ner,” Stallone said in a tele­phone in­ter­view last week.

Asked what had killed clas­sic ac­tion films like his “Rambo” and “Rocky” se­ries — both of which eked out a re­spectable per­for­mance with ret­rostyle se­quels in the past few years — Stallone an­swered in a word: “technology.”

When stars could “Vel­cro their mus­cles on, it was over,” he said.

A lithe but loopy Tobey Maguire could play a per­fectly cred­i­ble Spi­der-Man, as com­puter-gen­er­ated ef­fects made up for the raw ath­leti­cism that Stallone, Sch­warzeneg­ger and oth­ers brought to their trade­mark roles. Mean­while, at­ti­tudes changed, as Matt Da­mon, the self-doubt­ing, Mini Cooper-driv­ing hero of the “Bourne” films, set the stan­dard for a new and less vi­o­lent kind of hero.

Un­til, per­haps, “The Ex­pend­ables.”

Karen Bal­lard

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