REVIEW: Sylvester Stallone and Co. Make Tired Gruntwork of Expendables

Movieline Score: 3

In Sylvester Stallone's boneheaded action extravaganza The Expendables, it's not just the characters who are expendable: The actors may as well be tossed out with the garbage, too.

It was a stroke of semi-genius to gather Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren and Mickey Rourke -- not to mention Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis in small, uncredited roles -- into what should have been one kick-ass action picture. But almost no one in The Expendables, besides Stallone himself, has anything to do. Between the action sequences, which are numerous and meaningless, the actors wander listlessly like escapees from the old folks' home, prattling on about the good old bad old days in Bosnia, back when men were men, and so forth. And while almost everyone looks "good," at least in the nipped, tucked, buffed-and-polished sense, no one -- save Statham and Li, who actually resemble real human beings -- looks particularly cool. The whole exercise has the trying-too-hard vibe of a bad toupee.

The plot, not that you could really be induced to care, involves a group of mercenaries who have long been, as the press notes cheerfully tell us, "living in the fringes of the law" -- that makes me think of mites hiding out in the dangly bobbles on a dusty Victorian couch, but I doubt that's the intended effect. Anyway, these pals -- who are loyal to one another even when they can't stand one another -- include knife-thrower extraordinaire Lee Christmas (Statham); sniper Gunner Jensen (Lundgren); Yin Yang (Li), who, aside from having the cleverest name of the bunch (I guess "Ching-Chong" was already taken), is a pro at hand-to-hand combat; and two truly extraneous dudes, demolition king Toll Road and weapons guy Hale Caesar, who wander through the movie like chiseled, chunky ghosts. (They're played, respectively, by Randy Couture, who has the perfect name for an S&M costume shop, and by former NFL star Terry Crews.)

The whole gang is led by Stallone's Barney Ross, who, when he's not getting his ink spruced up at the tattoo-parlor hangout run by his old pal Tool (!), played by Mickey Rourke, is busy rounding up various permutations of his other old pals to overthrow ruthless South American dictators and such. In between, he takes time to romance a sexy, spark-plug freedom fighter (played by Brazilian actress Giselle Itiè), never realizing that a CIA turncoat played by Eric Roberts (who's criminally good at playing this sort of character) is setting him up. Because, really, what else does a character played by Eric Roberts ever do?

expendables_rev_li.jpgExplosions abound in The Expendables. Limbs are lopped off, leaving blood-spurting stumps behind. Groins are kicked, heads are smashed in, chests are stabbed. The action moves fast, thanks to lots of indistinct, choppy editing, and yet the whole exercise gives off a vaporous "So what?" ennui. A few of the actors are fun to watch: Statham has a great moment, firing some guns from a little airplane turret -- there's something pleasingly symmetrical about the sight of his cueball head and cast-iron shoulders emerging from the surface of that shiny bullet-shaped plane. And Li moves -- still -- with the grace of a spider monkey. He also has some of the picture's funniest lines, explaining to Stallone's Barney why he deserves to make more money than the others. (He's smaller, so he needs to move faster to cover the same amount of ground.)

But beyond that, there's no wit in The Expendables; the most you can hope for are a few obvious self-referential jokes. The picture is far less entertaining than Stallone's last entry as a director, the 2008 Rambo, a shameless piece of work that at least had the courage of its own sick convictions. And there's no way around it: Stallone just looks weird, and he sounds weird too. Whatever he's done to his face has made his elocution -- never that precise to begin with -- into a parody of itself. The first line he utters is "Here's your money -- release the hostages," but it comes out as "Heaz yo money, releaz da hoshtages." He swaggers through the movie wearing a punch-drunk, sozzled look. Sometimes his strangely shaped mollusk lips look as if they've been sewn together -- he's like a Madame Tussaud version of himself.

But there is one area in which The Expendables excels. Forget the fact that this week's other big release, the woman-finding-herself, Julia Roberts vehicle Eat, Pray, Love, has an attendant line of tote bags, pillow shams and other assorted rot available on the Home Shopping Network. (Perhaps even more horrifying, the movie also has its own line of perfume -- I just cannot go there.) If there were an Academy Award for Best Jewelry, The Expendables surely deserves it. These guys have great taste in bling, and some of them are decked out more ostentatiously than Liz Taylor: Rourke sports a bolo tie worn, quite daringly, sans shirt, along with a dangly charm bracelet; the relatively understated Statham wears a single, tasteful neck medallion.

But Stallone wins the glitter prize, with an assortment of hyper-masculine silver adornments including what is referred to as his "lucky dragon ring," a giant glob of metal so shiny and excessive that it could almost hypnotize you into thinking it's 1982 again. Stallone himself seems to be perpetually under that spell. And if that's what keeps him going, more power to him.


  • Rick Deckard says:

    Come on. We all know you would rather have been at Eat, Pray Love. This manly man clubhouse isn't for you.

  • DanceMafia says:

    No offence intended but to truly enjoy this film you need a COCK

  • Max Johnson says:

    As soon as I started to read what I felt were some spoilers, I stopped. Maybe this review should have been written in a 2 week's time? Then it wouldn't be the same time of month…

  • FightingChance says:

    I've heard women will instantly sprout one upon fully witnessing this film.

  • casting couch says:

    What a surprise: Zacharek hated this movie...

  • Trace says:

    I think she'd more likely rather be at the other Jason Statham movies that she actually likes.

  • Andy says:

    I really don't understand why women are reviewing this movie. It's not for you. That's like a guy reviewing Twilight or Sex and the City and so forth. It's always the same thing I hear from women about this movie "oh god they're so old." I hope I don't see one female in the theater tomorrow night. Every man who grew up on these guys' films knows exactly what to expect from this movie, a lot of violence and not a whole lot of reason. And in this case, it's perfectly fine.

  • Andy says:

    Ok, one more thing. How did this review get the OK when it has two paragraphs talking about Eat, Pray, Love and things the guys are wearing? And you're little comment about how Stallone thinks it's the 80's, that's the point you crazy broad.

  • Trace says:

    Look at all her reviews for Jason Statham movies. The sexist thought that only men can enjoy action movies is not just's wrong.
    Also, look at some of those Twilight reviews. Quite a few men like those as well.

  • Trace says:

    "How did this review get the OK when it has two paragraphs talking about Eat, Pray, Love and things the guys are wearing? "
    Eat, Pray, Love has all of two lines. Learn to count.

  • elo says:

    This TRACE person shows up to defend Stephanie in virtually every single review. I'll be shocked to death if this isn't Steph herself.

  • Feet of Courier says:

    Trace, Trace, Trace... Tisk, tisk, my dear. We all know that you are merely StephieZ's alter ego. Don't you have movies to watch instead of stirring it up with all of the interweb hoi polloi that bag on your reviews? I'm half expecting you to grab a beer, pull the emergency exit, and slide out the back.

  • Bob says:

    In North Korea they have instated gender-specific theaters, where the unbiased cast of RuPaul's Drag Race serve as judges measuring the percentage of either estrogen or testosterone their bodies produce while watching certain films. The correct gender of the audience for a theater is decided with this objective formula. And everyone wins.

  • Heika says:

    Clearly you don't need a brain.

  • casting couch says:

    So popcorn entertainment is cerebral now?

  • Trace says:

    If I were truly SZ, I probably would have got that film you just referenced. Alas, I didn't. So I'm not.

  • kelly says:

    This person just does not appreciate the work of Stallone. My mother always told me if you dont have nothing nice to say its better to not say anything at all. I cant wait to hear the amount of money this movie makes after this weekend and then she can eat her words and make a formal appoligy to Sly

  • Kris says:

    Uh, so you're saying movie critics should only ever say nice things? I can't understand why so many people seem to believe that critics should never be, you know, critical. And how exactly is box office gross supposed to change Zacharek's opinion of the movie?

  • walle says:

    Your review of "Why men wear jock straps" would have just as relevant.
    You either "get" the genre or you do not - you do not and should not venture into areas you do not understand.

  • I think Brad Pitt is so hot & gorgeous!

  • Brad King says:

    Sounds like you're hatin awefull hard on a guy that's been a hero to alot of people. Sly still looks great at his age. You wish you we're in that kind of shape.

  • Don says:

    I have to laugh at this review, didnt realize it was a woman reviewing it till halfway done reading it, then it all made sense. This is a guys movie.....plain and simple. Its the the same as a guy reviewing a "chick flick"...doesnt belong.
    The movie is what its supposed to be, an action movie. Its not supposed to have tremendous acting, or an amazing story, its supposed to be a adrenaline filled, testosterone raging action flick, and thats exactly what it is. Your not a guy, so you dont understand. Also, the ring he wears in the movie is not a dragon, its a skull, made for him by a very high end jeweler. Oh , and also, the 80's was gold jewelery. Handmade custom silver is the big thing for the past 10 years and getting more and more popular, especially with guys, so if your going to comment on something, know what your talking about. On Second thought, maybe you should stick to reviewing movies like Sex and the City...seem to be more up your alley.

  • Lucy says:

    Where To buy Inexpensive LINGERIE

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