The Expendables

Barney (Sylvester Stallone: Rambo) is a mercenary who’s just gotten back from killing Somali pirates for a shipping company when he gets a new lead. Some banana republic general is stirring up trouble with his small army, and Bruce Willis wants either Barney or Arnold Schwarzenegger to take him out. Not to dinner at Planet Hollywood, either. Barney accepts the apparent suicide mission and musters his mercs.

So unfolds an effort at epic action, a flick driven by the quest to pool Hollywood muscle into the ultimate growling ensemble. Jason Statham (Crank) is the knife man and Barney’s Number Two. Jet Li is the martial arts guy, and Dolph Lundgren the unhinged muscle. Further chest-beaters include Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin and Terry Crews. Could be fun cacophony, right?

If only. Wrangling the talent is writer/director/lead Stallone. Unfortunately he proves to be a five-foot Carrot Top, all eyeliner and steroid-hardened veins with a fixation on props. Stallone’s prop shtick isn’t intended to be outright funny, but the overcompensation gets ridiculous as he abandons context to posture butch. He randomly breaks out the choppers, an armored hot-rod truck, a sea plane bomber, tattoos, factory sets, chunks of steel, big trucks, big guns, big knives and Lundgren — plus swaths of denim, leather and lumberjack shirts in an effort to grunt loud. There’s no rhyme or reason behind the display, just haphazard impulse. It’s like the flourish of an aggressive peacock.

Perhaps it’s this preoccupation with pimping masculine objects, or maybe it’s the aggregate concussions among the stars that drags story down like a dangle of drool. Plot is weak even by action standards, with vague and conflicting half-formed ideas that get lost in distraction. Consequently, the quest is wholly disinteresting. Wit and even common sense are absent from the vacuum of dumb aggression. There are maybe two or three blips of bright catch-phrase or in-joking throughout the movie. Insipid dialogue is spoken in disjointed bursts of non sequitur on either side of ridiculously long pauses. Even WWE trash talk is better scripted. All you need to know is in Statham’s thuggy line, “next time I’ll deflate all your balls.” And that’s one of the film’s smarter moments.

Character rings hollow. While Stallone and Statham take the fore, other mercs are ignored. The villains are even lamer, dim goons that run an army whose only mission is to ride recklessly into town every five minutes to rough up a wailing populace.

Action, the movie’s supposed forte, is just canned explosions. Stallone springs for the big fireballs and firefights, but he doesn’t know how to build suspense or danger. There’s a lot of crashing and clamor as he tries to grab attention, and a few graphic deaths and dismemberments rendered in hokey special effects.

In short, this one is a waste of talent and time. If you make the mistake, don’t be shy to ask for your money back and try Scott Pilgrim vs. the World instead. You’ll need a fun and creative jolt to resuscitate your brain after this dud.

Bad action • R • 103 mins.
Prediction Quality: Off the Mark