The Expendables review

Stallone trundles out the big guns...

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The Expendables review - Talk about nostalgia porn. A teenage boy’s wet dream of a movie – if that teenage boy now has thinning hair and a thickening trunk – The Expendables sadly fires blanks.

Anyone who’s seen Rambos II, III or IV won’t be surprised to see Sly Stallone again wading overseas (at least this time his destination is fictional – the South American island of Vilena) to dispense a little America, Fuck Yeah! justice.

This time, though, he’s not alone in his ruthless mission, seeking to overthrow ex-CIA operative Eric Roberts’ eeevil dictatorship with the help of Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Jet Li. Just call ’em the A-verage Team: no defined characteristics, no fleshed out backstory, no chemistry.

With this much muscle on board, there’s little room to flex: Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger make more impact in two-minute cameos than anyone else musters throughout.

The Smirk is the mysterious suit who hires Stallone’s meatheads; The Oak is a rival mercenary who only turns up at all to trade body-blow banter with Sly.

It’s hardly Al and Bob in the coffee shop but watching these ’80s box office nemeses cross (pork) swords induces real shivers. Willis, meanwhile, wryly cuts through their homoerotic alpha-male grappling with a penetrating put-down: “Why don’t you just suck each other’s dicks?”

Sadly, the rest of the grunting, sweating script lacks such, er, élan, and what lunk-headed dialogue is on the page is delivered flatly. Again, no one’s expecting De Niro-Pacino, but the thunderous ineptitude on show makes this cast’s straight-to-DVD output of late look suddenly robust.

Then there’s Stallone’s unusually ham-fisted direction, the stiff-jointed action sequences and mucky visuals so black and blue they resemble a beaten bruiser wincing in the shadows. If DoP Jeffrey Kimball is trying to mimic the palette of ’80s pec-pics, he should take another look at the pulp poetry of First Blood and The Terminator…

The Expendables could have played it tongue-in-cheek or elegiac. The first would have made it a lot more fun, the second could have fashioned The Wild Bunch of the action genre, as suggested by the scene in which Mickey Rourke’s ex-Expendable coughs up a haunting anecdote.

Instead we have a lumbering, stumbling actioner full of creaks and groans – most of them coming from the audience.

Editor-at-Large, Total Film

Jamie Graham is the Editor-at-Large of Total Film magazine. You'll likely find them around these parts reviewing the biggest films on the planet and speaking to some of the biggest stars in the business – that's just what Jamie does. Jamie has also written for outlets like SFX and the Sunday Times Culture, and appeared on podcasts exploring the wondrous worlds of occult and horror.