The bombs are bursting all over in Sylvester Stallone’s latest testosterone-engorged feature, a poorly written yet adrenaline-driven maelstrom. If the plot line doesn’t leave you numb with disbelief, the excessive explosive outbursts and viscerally edited dismemberments will drop you, or someone you care about, wet in the seat. It’s a natural extension for Stallone’s last feature, the re-imagined “Rambo,” which had a similar body count. Guys, if you’re taking a date, you might want to soften any possibility of a relationship disintegration by also agreeing to take your girlfriend to her preferred film for this weekend, “Eat Pray Love.” Sort of tit-for-tat. Otherwise you might end up with a less-than-significant other in a less-than-happy mood.
Opening with a Mercenaries for Dummies sequence set in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia, it’s the end of a three-month old ransom situation on a commercial shipping vessel. As the captors demand their money, red lasers point on the ever-frustrated pirates. Mincemeat ensues courtesy of a small, lunatic fringe of men-boys who carry guns, knives, and other weapons of mass destruction. This dirty half-dozen includes the Barney “Do-the-Right-Thing” Ross (Stallone), former SAS bladesman Lee Christmas (Jason “Transporter” Statham), demolition junkie Toll Road (professional wrestler Randy Couture adorned in cauliflower ear), the diminutive Jet Li as Yin Ying, a hand-to-hand combat specialist, big-gun/street smart guy Hale Caesar [what, no Ettu Brutus?] (played by Terry Crews, best known for his comedy riffs on “Everybody Hates Chris”), and way-off-psycho-kilter sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph “I’m also a director!” Lundgren).
When the group returns from their successful mission, we get some back story (Christmas’ funk after a girlfriend dumps him for a lout, etc.) as everyone seems to gather in a tattoo parlor run by pipe-smoking biker Tool (Mickey Rourke, in hair and makeup similar to his “Iron Man 2” wardrobe).
Before the rest of the movie plays out, more or less, on the fictional South American island of Vilena (the film was mostly shot in Brazil and New Orleans), one of the year’s best comedy cameos features Stallone visiting a wise a*s CIA stiff (Bruce Willis) and Trench, another soldier of fortune played by the Governator a.k.a. Arnold Schwarzenegger, obviously looking forward to some renewed box office glory after finishing his reign in Sacramento. There is some light humor about sucking a certain part of the male anatomy as well as a hilarious political response to what’s Trench’s problem with the decision that sends the film’s primary mission to the film’s star, director, and co-writer (with David Callaham, emphasis on the “ham”).
We get the lay of the island when Ross and Christmas take a “stealth” reconnaissance flight to that quaint island to check out its local dictator general (David Zayas, a series regular on the magnificently written serial killer drama “Dexter”), a puppet to Ugly American James Munroe (Eric Roberts, sober and efficient) and his henchman Paine (Steve Austin, big and bald). Masquerading as an ornithologist and photographer (hey, I’ve got a bridge I can sell you), they all too easily pass through the single customs official before meeting a young woman, Sandra (Giselle Itié), who has a determined agenda against the regime. Turns out she’s the general’s daughter. Oy vey! The island (and what is barely left of it at film’s end) apparently is bare minutes away from Los Angeles, as all the Expendables but Gunner (who has his own drug-addled issues) return to Vilena and the general’s palace sooner than humanly possible.
Pure red-neck American hospitality is showered on the general’s militia. There’s lots of running, chasing, slapping explosives on everything in sight, killing, fighting, more killing, lots of shooting, some cool knife throwing, many bombs going BOOM, beheadings, limb removal, etc. all as if a video game was playing out in front of you. Sadly, no barbeque, at least of anything edible.
Any attempt to let off pressure from the non-stop high octane barrage might leave you stunned—at how poorly this thing is written. The script is absolutely silly; most of the dialogue made of crazy wood (She: “How are you here?” He: “I just am.”). The general’s daughter is shown to be an artist. Her bad apple-ness is then attributed by Munroe to her painting, “This is how it starts.” But hey this film is not meant to inspire scholarly thought. “The Expendables” is meant to provide its (mostly male) audience a big can of whoop a*s. Don’t go expecting Shakespeare or even bad Shakespeare.