Friday, August 13, 2010

The Expendables prove their worth

Sylvester Stallone's tough and calculated feat of assembling some of the best men action cinema has to offer has paid off in The Expendables, his much hyped and satisfying new movie in which there's more than enough testosterone to fill a 50 foot screen.

The story is simple and direct: a group of loyal mercenaries who have fought long and hard for years are hired to take out an evil south American dictator, who's financed by a sadistic and icy wealthy American (Eric Roberts) who has Stone Cold Steve Austin as his lead henchman. You know Roberts is a villain because he's well dressed, wears sunglasses and has the smirk that corrupt men like to display. He takes his role as the lead heavy with great idiosyncratic relish.

The Expendables are made up of six men: Aging but still agile leader Stallone, Jason Statham as his close buddy whose specialty is knives and sarcastic wit, Jet Li as a martial artist who is the subject of short guy jokes, Terry Crews as man who uses a bazooka to it's fullest capacity, Randy Couture as an ex-wrestler and Dolph Lundgren as a trigger happy sniper whose battle fatigue has made him a serious liability. Stallone has shown here that proper casting and utilizing the best from his individual actors is something he fully understands. Each cast member is given an opportunity to shine. Mickey Rourke has entertaining dramatic moments as an ex-Expendable who now spends time brushing up on Stallone's unfinished tattoos while waxing philosophical about their old days in the midst of devastating violence. Seeing these actors, who are obviously long time friends in real life, share screen time is great fun.

Stallone (who also directed and co wrote the picture, his eighth as a director) also knows how to pair the right guys as adversaries. He exchanges fists and tackles with the much more brawnier Steve Austin in the scene that seriously injured Stallone in real life and nearly shut down the movie. Such standoffs make the fight scenes all the more engaging and unpredictable.

The film runs at a great pace, setting up the plot quickly with no frills. Humor is abundant, especially in the great set up scene in which Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwartzenegger exchange funny and tongue in cheek dialogue that is crowd pleasing.

If you're a child of 1980s/90s action cinema, then The Expendables is the faithful return to that spirit. Stallone pushes the right buttons and not even use of CGI and green screen, certainly not reminiscent of action films of yore, distract from the overall joy of seeing aged heavyweights do what they do best. They aren't young anymore, but they know from experience.

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