This is a low-intellect retro movie full of violence and special effects, peopled by 20th-Century actors. There isn’t even one actor in the film that I can single out for a good performance. It’s filled with cameos, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, although having Arnold doesn’t seem to be a particularly good idea since his popularity, in California anyway, is now down at the Gray Davis (the man he replaced as Governor) level. Also in for a blink is Bruce Willis. Even so, Willis is listed in the display ad as one of the stars. If this doesn’t qualify as misleading advertising, I don’t know what would.
The prime mover is director/writer (with David Callahan) Stallone, aided and abetted by Jason Statham, both action stars. I can’t see Stallone or Statham in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, for example. Of course the script doesn’t really require acting, just grunting and shooting.
The excuse for all the mayhem is a small South American Island taken over by a bad “American,” a rogue former CIA agent, Monroe (Eric Roberts). Stallone and his gang of mercenaries are hired by Willis (through Stallone’s agent and former colleague, tattoo artist Tool, played by Mickey Rourke) to kill the ruler of the island, General Garza (David Zayas). Rourke is continuing to play the same role that was so rewarding for him in The Wrestler. Tool is really an amazing artist because he finishes a tattoo on Sylvester’s back in less time than it takes to spell Sylvester’s name, but if you want logic and reason you’ve come to the wrong movie.
When Stallone and Statham get to the island, they meet Garza’s daughter, Sandra (Giselle Itié), who is a patriot. After killing lots of people on their first visit, they go back to save her and kill just about everyone else. This is a film where bullets fly and hit other people; lots of other people; lots and lots of other people. But, big surprise, they just don’t hit our five heroes! One of the lines that is repeated over and over in A Walk in the Sun (1945), one of the best war movies of the 20th Century, is “Nobody dies!” In The Expendables, everybody dies (except our five action stars).
It’s also a film where one is asked to believe that five men can defeat an army. I guess all this “few vanquishing many” started with The Magnificent Seven (which was John Sturges’ 1960 remake of Kurosawa’s 1954 Seven Samurai). But The Magnificent Seven made sense, wasn’t graphically violent, and was peopled by real actors, like Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, and Steve McQueen. Nobody in this film (well, maybe Willis, but he’s just a cameo) comes close to the stature of those people.
It shows graphic violence, hands being chopped off, knives going through bodies, stuff like that. Graphic violence substitutes for intelligence in junk like this. The fights are so many and so long that they become like white noise. And instead of watching two combatants take each other on, the cuts are so quick that you can rarely tell who’s fighting whom or who is winning, Who or Whom?
One thing is certain, while there might be some visceral satisfaction in so many bad guys getting mowed down, the losers are the viewers.