How many actions stars does it take to get audiences into theaters? THIS many.
When the leader of a group of former covert operatives who go on suicide missions for money, there are rules about what to do and what can be done. When you get to a certain age, saving the day for money may not be what keeps you going after the mission ends. Some seek the life they never had (Jason Statham), some want to rescue the girl (Sylvester Stallone), some want a little more than their share (Jet Li), and some want revenge for being kicked off the team merely for going a “little rogue?” (Dolph Lungren.) But with these guys, the only thing more entertaining than watching them kick butt is listening to them giving each other crap.
Following a surprise resurrection of Sylvester Stallone’s action star credentials with a fourth unwanted yet nevertheless entertaining Rambo movie, The Expendables is a love letter to action fans old and new where the good guys kill the bad guys in the most entertaining ways possible. Instead of being a spoof of the genre, it’s an over-the-top good time that only directors Robert Rodriguez and Troy Duffy still seem to think are fun (along with legions of fans tired of films like The Other Guys and the Starsky and Hutch remake.)
While every almost male actor whose ever made an action flick was asked to play a part, only a handful turned the opportunity down. The core group is made up of Stallone, Statham, Li, and Lungren with a little help from Mickey Rourke just to keep things level. One has to wonder how much these talking scenes were comprised of actual scripted dialog and how many were made up as they went along (and how much more of this kind of footage will be on the DVD as extras.) In addition to showing up, all of these guys still look more than capable of dealing out death and are still awesome to watch in action even when you know what’s coming.
With luck, this film will succeed enough to warrant a sequel, a practical certainty with a budget this low. While the first film was an all boys club, it might be equally entertaining to pull the same gag off with tough gals such as Linda Hamilton, Angelina Jolie, Sigourney Weaver, and a few others. If not, there’s still plenty more material these guys can draw from and a few more old action guys they could still recruit. With primarily live stunts, close quarter fights, and as little computer imagery as they can forgive, these are the steak, potatoes, and beer kinds of movies that’s been missing from the summer box office.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)