I want to see The Expendables, but not for the reasons you think.
The upcoming testosterone-on-steroids action flick from the mind of Sylvester Stallone is being heralded as a throwback to the bygone days of the 1980’s, a time when heroes had more muscle than brains, more guns than laptops, and more stunts than…well there was no CGI. To achieve his goal of resuscitating the clichés of my youth, Sly assembled every macho man he could find (except of course Macho Man Randy Savage). You might have seen the posters or the trailers in which the marketers have decided require no plot detail whatsoever but merely a long recitation of the beefy cast. There’s Stallone, Statham, Li, Couture, Lundgren, Crews, Austin, Willis, and taking a break from whatever he does in Sacramento, Schwarzenegger. Are you ready for some ass-kicking indeed.
While this might get some people excited, it just doesn’t do it for me. For starters, as much as I enjoy those mindless old action works of art, I don’t find myself wishing we had more of them. True, what passes as a good action flick nowadays is pretty laughable (Transformers 1&2), but my appetite for destruction is occasionally whetted by exceptions to the rule (District 9, The Bourne Ultimatum, Inception). The best action films of today aren’t retreads of what McTiernan, Stallone and Shane Black taught us, but rather a progression from them. So whenever someone complains that they don’t make them like they used to, they might be right, but they shouldn’t be complaining.
The other thing that has me questioning The Expendables is the lackluster footage I’ve seen. Nothing from the behind the scenes to the theatrical trailer has shown me something to excite the kick-ass center of my brain. No amazing explosion, no smooth one-liner, and certainly no witty banter. It’s starting to feel like Stallone didn’t write a screenplay but rather perused his Rolodex. But if that’s true, and the cast is all I should worry about, well then that’s a problem too. Willis and Schwarzenegger appear to be little more than cameos so you can cross them out. Stallone, Lundgren, and Statham can be pretty badass when they want to be so I’ll count them. Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts aren’t really action stars but having them in any movie can’t hurt so I’ll let them slide. But what’s left? I’ve seen one Jet Li movie that I liked despite his martial arts skill. I wish I could forget that I’ve seen The Condemned. And who the fuck is Terry Crews and Randy Couture? They all sound like poor substitutes for Van Damme, Seagal, and Norris. If Stallone had managed to wrangle those guys up then my interest would be piqued.
But I am excited, and you know why? Because I’ve seen Rambo. Not First Blood, which is pretty sweet, or Rambo: First Blood Part II, which is fun and campy, or Rambo III, which I haven’t seen, but Rambo. Stallone’s last picture he wrote/directed where he revisited his tortured vet character and sent him deep into Burma to kick-ass and take names. More specifically, I’ve seen the last 20 minutes of Rambo. If you haven’t, do so, and if you have, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s some kind of masterpiece thesis on carnage. There’s no plot to focus on, and no pathos, just Rambo and a bunch of bad guys who need to get dead. I don’t know if the blood or body count is a cinematic record but it feels like it belongs in Guinness somewhere. I know I shouldn’t enjoy the senseless on-screen violence and that it is somehow morally depraved, but I can’t help it. There’s a part of my animal self that soaks this kind of thing up and begs for more. I can’t apologize for it, I can only savor it. The gore is so pervasive it becomes transcendent. It’s like poetry or a ballet, but with mortars and machetes. At one point, Stallone mounts a turret and mows people down for 5 minutes, it’s ridiculous.
Of course whether or not I actually see it has less to do with me wanting to or not and more to do with circumstance. But it is my Rambo knowledge that gives me hope for The Expendables. I might be judging too much based solely on trailers or maybe not. What I do know is the marketing has not worked on me, the cast leaves much to be desired, and the idea of bringing back the 80’s yet again is not appealing. But if Stallone is trying to top what he accomplished with Rambo, then we’re all in for a treat.
MPAA – RATED R FOR STRONG ACTION AND BLOODY VIOLENCE THROUGHOUT, AND FOR SOME LANGUAGE