Sylvester Stallone's got directorial chops and a clear-cut sensibility pitched somewhere between sermon-on-the-mount seriousness and macho camp. His recent Rambo was a masterful piece of reactionary cinema in which the Reagan-era icon made a convincing, bullet-blamming case for U.S. intervention in foreign territories. The Expendables is a different beast: The take-no-prisoners brutalism of the writer-director-star's prior effort is still here, but the thought behind this body-splattering nostalgia trip is unformed and stagnant.
Barney Ross (Stallone) is the leader of a crack crew of mercenaries tasked with overthrowing a South American dictator. Visions of Commando may be dancing in your head, especially when Arnold Schwarzenegger walks into an expositional meeting of the Planet Hollywood minds between Stallone and Bruce Willis. But the Governator is only making a wry cameo ("He wants to be President," smirks Ross), and he looks like hell besides.
Ruined faces dominate The Expendables, which gives Stallone the chance to milk every last drop of virile pathos. Mickey Rourke gets an expectedly moving "This is why I retired" monologue, and Sly's Rocky IV antagonist, Dolph Lundgren, does a great rueful drunk act. Yet all the potent man-boob yearning is undermined by the inept action scenes, which follow one character's description of a particular plot twist ("That's bad Shakespeare") by being all about sound and fury signifying nada. Another tossed-off line ("I like poetry") hints at the swaggering lyricism Stallone is after. Indeed, certain pieces of The Expendables---the way a fire trail gleams in Ross's eyes, for instance---stick out like well-turned phrases in a failed sonnet. The definitive ode to our aged '80s action star stable, though, has yet to be written.---Keith Uhlich
Watch the trailer