I had to get in the right frame of mind to even be approved to see “The Expendables,” the double-dose of testosterone featuring action film caves from ap the last few decades.
Stallone, Lundgren, Li, Stathem, even Willis and Schwarzenegger pop by for maximum flex appeal.
So I gathered two of my manliest male friends, went to the gym for a some squats, deadlifts, and various other weight training execercises designed to sculpt our frames into The Situation-approved slabs of beefcake. We followed up with a protein shake, some raw eggs, a round of small firearms training, then a 10-mile dead sprint to the theater, where we arm-wrestled for the best seats in the house.
We were pumped and ready to relive our childhood with the cast of “The Expendables.” All the muscle-clad men of our youth were going to lay waste to perhaps continents of bad guys armed with steady streams of heavy artillery, heavily oiled torsos, and an arsenal of witty one-liners while staring in the face of death.
Or so we thought.
Instead of repeat choruses of “Eye of the Tiger” echoing in my eardrums, the only musical line that repeated in my brain was the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper,” where Mick sighs, “what a drag it is getting old.”
Look, I wasn’t expecting them to encapsulate the 80s-era god-like stature they once possessed. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was hoping they would have a little fun at their own expense, perhaps pontificate on the ravages of time that has carved canyons in their faces (despite obvious chemically and surgically enhanced “lifts” to stave it off) — you know, be the embodiment of Danny Glover’s immortal “Lethal Weapon” line, “I’m gettin’ too old for this sh–!”
But there is little to no such humility to be found in “The Expendables.” Stallone seems convinced he can make it in a young man’s game, perhaps emboldened by the success of his “Rocky” and “Rambo” revivals. Here, he plays Barney Ross, a leader of a team of guns-for-hire who are called into action to rescue the daughter of a brutal dictator whose cozied up with an American businessman (played by Eric Roberts), in some vaguely defined island that appears to be in Central America.
For the outing, Barney is joined by a pack of such witlessly named mercenaries as Lee Christmas (Statham), Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), Hale Caesar (“Everyone Hates Chris'” Terry Crews), Ying Yang (Li), and Toll Road (MMA fighter Randy Couture). And while they each have about a two minutes to show off their skills, make no mistake, Stallone wants this to be his show.
What could have been a deliriously over-the-top homage to those outrageously implausible action epics of the ’80s (“Tango & Cash,” “Showdown in Little Tokyo,” “Commando,” “Cobra,” … don’t test me. I could go on for days), takes things rather seriously, saving the humor for only obvious, juvenile jabs that would barely pass as playground taunts. He also makes sure to show his 63-year-old frame in action as often as possible. While his build may be impressive, I could not focus on anything other than his odd visage, which looks like an avalanche of skin, propped up only by two waxy, dyed eyebrowns that are groomed better than most pets.
Aside from starring, Stallone served as producer, co-writer and director, and as the latter, he also seems to be trying far too hard to mask his age. Sure, there’s action, but you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish who’s stabbing who in the chest, or who’s taking a barrage of bullets from whose gun, as he chops the action with the finesse of a squirrel in traffic.
As mentioned before, Stallone gets brief on-set visits from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but even their nanosecond cameos mount to little more than “Hey, they’re together!” followed by a cutesy pun.
Mickey Rourke also does him a favor as a tattoo artist by the name of Tool (sadly, I am serious). Rourke does provide the film with it’s only meditation of past-his-prime reflection, which is genuinely, momentarily touching, but the scene fades out as quickly as it comes in and we are on the next display of AARP-defying action.
It all plays out like that tragically lonely guy at the end of the bar, his shirt unbuttoned far too low, eyeing the gals half his age in a sad attempt to lure them for a ride in his IROC-Z.
Our 80s heroes deserved a better ride into the sunset than that.