by NIR SHALEV
Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Mickey Rourke and Terry Crews star as a group of mercenaries who are recruited by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis to fly to a fictitious South American country and kill a certain dictator. The plot thickens when the crew realizes that a rogue CIA agent (Eric Roberts) had joined forces with the dictator and is funding his military coup and the fields of marijuana that aren’t growing. The two have personal disputes throughout the entire film and Roberts upstages the dictator during every scene.
Sadly, that’s almost all there is to the plot. While casing the island and its target, Stallone and Statham meet up with a beautiful woman who just happens to be the dictator’s daughter. She wants to be a part of the downfall of her father’s legacy, the freedom of the people and when Stallone and Statham try to leave the island with her she decides to stay. Eventually, The Expendables bail out of the mission but when Rourke tells Stallone a story about a woman from his past whose life he could have saved but didn’t, Stallone decides that the mission’s on again with or without his crew. In summation, the team goes into this fictitious country solely to save a woman that Stallone hadn’t had time to get to know and he really shouldn’t care that much about.
There is no character development throughout the film, not for one single character. There is the sub-plot of Statham’s girlfriend who’d moved on in his absence but whose new boyfriend is abusive, so we are treated to the obligatory martial arts sequence that showcases one against five, and there’s the story that Rourke tells Stallone that fuels the ridiculous third act of the film. No one has a past but their present foreshadows a dangerous future. It’s too bad we don’t care and for such a cast I felt bad in not caring.
Rambo (2008) is a violent film but is a darn good one because it was very well shot, decently performed, and didn’t contain utterly ridiculous dialogue or situations that were farfetched. It had bad guys that didn’t even speak English and that you’d utterly hate within minutes of their screen presence. This film’s bad guys fail at every attempt of trying to be bad guys and turned out rather annoying. Heck, they practically killed themselves with their constant bickering.
As I watch at least fifteen movies per week I study filmmaking more and more and am noticing more and more, individual shots and frames. The more movies that I watch where the camera is still, either situated on a tripod or a dolly the more jarring an experience it becomes watching handheld films. The Bourne trilogy is a great example, as is Cloverfield, and The Expendables is no exception. The action/fight/explosion sequences in The Expendables are shot with much testosterone but alas, I blame Stallone as director for muddling every single one of them. The fight sequences, particularly a nice one pitting Jet Li against Lundgren are all shot handheld, in dark areas, and in close-up or medium close-ups. I had a tough time discerning what was going on during all fight and action sequences because American filmmakers hadn’t yet learned from the Asian martial arts cinema how to properly stage and shoot a fight sequence. There was only one fight sequence that I liked, which I was able to visually comprehend and it was the final one between UFC’s Randy Couture and WWE’s “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
There is a distinct setup that American filmmakers had been using for the past decade plus and it consists of three important steps: first, the film, or just the action in it must be shot handheld; second, the cinematography of the sequences, or of the entire film must be shot in a series of incomprehensible close-ups; and third, the editing must be quick-fire fast, too fast for audiences to be able to place the sequential images together, coherently. The steps don’t have to be shot in this sequence but all three steps must be used together.
If one was to absolutely have to see this film then I’d recommend renting it, at best. If one was to absolutely have to see it in the theaters then I’d recommend one sees it for free, if possible and that one sits far in the back of the theater so that the editing isn’t disorienting.
I don’t hate this movie, I just don’t like it nor do I recommend it. I wasn’t very well entertained, even though I was laughing at it throughout and the last fifteen minutes hold a special kind of ultra, hyper-violence that is somewhat worth seeing. For Stallone, rent this film. For 1980s style action, violence, and gore rent this film. Or just watch Rambo (2008) again and be done with it.
1 1/2 stars
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For a primer on Hong Kong-style action, watch the Once Upon a Time in China trilogy starring Jet Li in the iconic role of Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung.