Wednesday, August 25, 2010

'Expendables' full review

Property The Daily Gamecock

Early on in director/co-writer/star Sylvester Stallone’s testosterone overload “The Expendables,” Arnold Schwarzenegger enters a church through almost impossible brightness, creating the impression that a saint is descending to converse with mortals.

In the ensuing conversation, the “Terminator,” “Rocky” and Bruce Willis trade quips about a new mission. Schwarzenegger refuses and leaves in the same bright halo of light and Willis never makes a return for the rest of the film.

This is perhaps the only sequence that really reveals what Stallone had in mind when he set out to make “The Expendables,” which has been billed from the time it was announced as a rollicking reunion of ’80s action stars. In this brief scene, there is actual care with the camera, light and conversation ­— a kind of meta-wit to the proceedings.

Sadly, this playfulness is missing from nearly every other minute of “The Expendables,” a movie so awkward in nearly every element that it becomes almost impossible to enjoy once it finally gives over to nonstop madcap action and blood.

The most conspicuous problem lies in Stallone’s choice of casting. While it’s often fun to watch Stallone and Jason Statham bounce verbal folly off each other — the unstoppable action hero of the ’80s colliding with the unstoppable action hero of the ’00s — co-stars Randy Couture and Terry Crews are lifeless additions to the team.

On the “villainous” side of things, Eric Roberts (“The Dark Knight”) does great over-the-top work, but he’s a head-and-shoulders

standout over the unintelligible Dolph Lundgren and Steve Austin, who says every one of his few lines like he’s standing inside a wrestling ring with a microphone.

Stallone and co-writer Dave Callaham want to make every conversation scene memorable, full of jokes about masculinity, weapons, women and old age. Unfortunately, no one seems to figure out how to deliver the leaden, obvious dialogue, and almost every moment comes off either forced or blandly overplayed.

Even Stallone seems to suffer under the burden of his own words, as the 64-year-old looks more dazed than anything when the action isn’t a-blazing. The only member of the cast who actually breathes some soul into the proceedings is Mickey Rourke as a tattoo artist, but he is again shafted to a sideline role — a wasted asset.

But what of the action, which is really the only reason anyone would want to suffer through the awkward community of truly expendable co-stars? To Stallone’s credit, he stages several massive explosions and some staggering gore. Following on his blood-drenched “Rambo” (2008), the film loves to kill off as many extras in as many gory ways as Stallone can devise.

But this action is not necessarily a pleasure to look at. The editing is grossly inconsistent and imprecise, shots rarely feel framed to their maximum potential and cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball makes the nighttime climax a struggle to see. There’s nary a sense of rhythm or pulse.

Yes, there is such thing as “gritty action,” but if in-your-face verisimilitude was something Stallone was aiming for in “The Expendables,” he fails

miserably. While the action is certainly over-the-top, if only intermittently campy, it never exhibits the kind of care Stallone invests in those three minutes in the church with Willis and Schwarzenegger.

While it could have been a dream-team ensemble movie, a true throwback to “Rambo,” “Commando,” “Predator” and the rest of that dearly loved company, “Expendables” feels more like a shadow, a compromised project that has to shove its real attractions into cameos.

It’s like a high-concept project without its central concept. Even though it picks up significantly in its final act, everything before feels so arthritic, so creaky, it can never rebound from how insignificant an exercise it inevitably feels like.

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