Mission Indecipherable

[Film] The Expendables

The latest in the unremitting stream of effluent that is Nostalgia Cinema, hack of all trades Sylvester Stallone’s latest seeks to wring out any remaining earning potential from its stars. The premise is simple: wouldn’t it be great if we got all the old action heroes back together? Then people could pay to sit and point at them and say how great it is that we’ve got all the old action heroes back together. And so it is that Sly has assembled not so much an ensemble cast, but more a butcher’s shop window.

To the high seas then, and after a brief delay caused by the Stathe receiving a text message (Sly knows what goes down in the modern world) the elite band of Expensionables take out a group of crudely drawn Somali pirates. But before they have a chance to smoke a celebratory cigar there’s a problem: Dolph Dungren’s gone rogue and intends to hang a pirate because, not unreasonably “I like hanging pirates.” Sure, they may whore themselves to the highest bidder, no questions asked, but these guys have a rigorous moral compass. And before you know it, Dolph has been smacked down and thrown off the team. Turns out he’s addicted to meth and the rest of the ‘roid casualties have no time for that kind of behaviour.

Now back at Micky Rourke’s workshop-cum-tattoo parlour for beer, enforced matey banter and inexplicable booming laughter, a call comes in with an offer of work. A meeting is arranged in a church with a nameless, smirking fixer (Bruce Willis). As a taster of the killer dialogue that litters the film Sly decides to call him Church because, y’know, they’re in a church. It’s when rival mercenary Arnie turns up that the zingers really start flying though. 30 Rock it ain’t:

Arnie: You’ve lost weight.

Sly: And it looks like you found it.

[long pause]

Bruce: Why don’t you guys just suck each other’s dick and get it over with?

[even longer pause, tumbleweed, followed by yet more inexplicable booming laughter]

The locals on Vilena (“an iiiisland in the Gooooolf” according to Arnie) are being brutalised by a ruthless, moustachioed, painting-mad dictator. Though in reality, he’s merely drug baron Eric Roberts’ puppet. The Expensionable’s mission is to shut that shit down, so Sly and Stathe (wearing an alarmingly snug pair of white jeans) head off to recce the island as undercover ornithologists. Of course it’s obvious they’re no Bill Oddies, but they’ve prepared a watertight alibi: “We’re doing a survey.” Then they get picked up by a mysterious beauty and also enthusiastic painter (hmm, I wonder), who shows them to the outskirts of the presidential palace, though it’s what’s in her skirt that Sly’s more interested in, huh? Right? Stathe, on the other hand, has got his clunge blinkers on as he’s keeping (lack of) Charisma Carpenter warm at home, though some relationship issues mean he temporarily loses his knife-throwing mojo. Yeah, the film has an emotional heart too – this shit is layered.

Once in sight of the palace it turns out that the natives, they no friendly, but they won’t harm their mysterious travel guide as it turns out she’s only the Generalissimo’s daughter! Of course twenty heavily armed men are no match for these two. Or that one, really – it’s mainly Stathe bringing the acting and fighting chops to the table, whereas Sly is just bringing the boiled ham. The guy looks sweatier than Winona Ryder walking past shop security. Now it’s time for them to make a swift escape with the Generalissimo’s daughter in tow, but she won’t leave because she’s as loyal as she is mixtape-worthy. So it’s left to Sly to run for the plane in slow motion. Oh, it’s not slow motion, that’s just him running. Anyway, he’ll be back. Aah, balls. Wrong actor.

It looks like this will be the Expensionable’s toughest battle yet, apart from arthritis and male bladder weakness, and they decide they want out. Except for Jet Li who’s all about the Benjamins. In an incredibly drawn-out subplot he harps on about needing more money for ‘my family’ more often than Robert Lindsay’s agent. But despite the lack of back-up Sly wants to go it alone. This is partly due to being enchanted by the Generalissimo’s daughter’s bravery as well as her bralessness, and partly because Mickey Rourke tells him a rambling anecdote about a girl he might have liked to have sex with who jumped off a bridge. It was one boring anecdote and frankly, I’d leap into the jaws of death rather than listen to any more. Unsurprisingly the rest of the Expensionables decide they want in after all and they head back to Vilena.

In the meantime, the Generalissimo has gone all Watercolour Challenge on everyone’s ass and this brings about a change of heart: he wants Roberts outta there. Roberts is distinctly non-plussed by this revelation and so kidnaps his daughter in retaliation. The suspiciously ostentatious gold pineapples on the Generalissimo’s epaulettes should have been the first clue he may not have the stomach for it, but one key piece of information later and the whole sorry jigsaw slots into place: “Your daughter paints too?! This is how it starts!!” Yep, never trust a painter. Anyway, now some serious shit is going to go down as the Generalissimo turns his men – now blacked-up and sporting Ziggy Stardust face flashes, just to reinforce the fact all forriners look the same – against the escaping Roberts and his crew, and also the encroaching Expensionables. This time it’s Sly and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin that get it on for some more balletic fight sequences and semi-incomprehensible, sub-Inbetweeners, trash talking.

Stone Cold: How many men did you bring?

Sly: Just your mum.

Stone Cold: Who sent you?

Sly: Your hairdresser.

Brilliant. Stone Cold suitably roasted, there’s just enough time to mete out some serious gunishment in the deafening finale, as the Explosionables raze the palace, and half the island, to the ground. They really taught those guys a lesson. Well actually there’s nobody left alive to learn that lesson. But if they were alive they’d have been totally learned. And the people they were trying to liberate have been left destitute and homeless. Prescient. But hey, fuck Sly’s legacy – he’s not Tony Blair. Sensibly the union between her and Sly is left unfulfilled as it’s evident that he’s so botoxed to buggery he can barely raise an eyebrow, never mind anything else. Then it’s back to the workshop for more manly carousing, and in Stathe’s case, a poetry battle. Really.

As guilty pleasures go, this proved to be more guilt than pleasure. Much like the more execrable instalments of the Ocean’s franchise it looks like everyone involved in making it had a helluva lot of fun, and assumed this would be reciprocated by the viewer. It wasn’t. All it really did was serve as a reminder as to why these kinds of films died out or went straight to DVD. I like one dimensional characters and mindless violence as much as anyone, but this had all the bombast and none of the charm of the classics of the genre. Lazy in both premise and execution, the novelty of spotting those familiar old leathery faces wasn’t enough to compensate for a turd of a script and some pretty leaden fight sequences. Most of the mumbling, shrivelled dicks on display here look more like Jackie Stallone than their former selves, and most of their dialogue is just as unintelligible. Hopefully Stathe’s (relatively) stellar performance will be enough to embarrass the rest of them into retirement, but early box office receipts suggest otherwise. Roll on Crank 3, and put the rest of these Expensionables in a home.

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