More midlife macho class reunion than anything else, The Expendables may end up being just that as its pre-geriatric, close to over the hill hotshots hobble into theaters with a nearly two hour tropical rumble on screen. And while writer/director Sylvester Stallone seems to excel here as an event planner, assembling just about every veteran movie action hero in existence – even if a couple of them show up only for some verbal sparring in designer suits – the party animal antics tend to be limited to such slickly stylized synthetic pummeling, that it barely seems like genuine action at all.
The predominantly tongue-in-cheek play acting storyline such as it is, inserted to wallpaper the stunts, goes something like this. Stallone is Barney Ross, the head of what may or may not be a supposedly good guys mercenary outfit along the lines of the infamous Blackwater company. Disbanded as of late after slaughtering pirates in Somalia, the rowdies are reassembled to kick selective butt in the fictional South American island nation of Vilena.
Initially summoned to a church by a mysterious guy named Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), what else, Barney is contracted to take down Vilena’s mean president (David Zayas) for no particular reason. And by the way, in mid-conversation Arnold Schwarzenegger strolls in, presumably to trade hate-at-first-sight insults. Apparently Governor Arnie has whipped California into such great shape, that he has spare time to straighten out whatever ails other countries, fictional or otherwise.
Subsequently assembled for the Hollywood invasion of Latin America – or who happen to have infiltrated there already for as yet unrevealed reasons – are Jet Li, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Gary Daniels, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham who currently has distracting co-dependency issues, and Eric Roberts, who may very well be Julia’s evil twin, or at least sibling. And, head of Ugly American operations Stallone, who is caught on camera referring to the locals as ‘monkeys.’ So begin the repetitive proceedings, entailing kicking peasant ass and blowing up town squares, while engaging in car chases overturning papaya carts, and terrorizing donkeys.
While Zayas, a former NYPD cop for real, is not explicitly tagged as a stand-in for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, c’mon, he’s wearing the very same trademark fatigues and red beret, and heads a Latin American country beginning with a ‘V’ and ending with an ‘A’. Though in order to avoid controversy with red state versus blue state audiences as the villain prez vows to ‘kill this American disease’, Stallone has tossed in for presumed balance a couple of CIA baddies up to no good too.
With its action-heavy, story slim structure, The Expendables and its retro-heroics approach seems to be projecting the idea that slaughter is sexy, especially when set to the right music. While this privatized, murder for millions deal hits theaters at an odd moment when the CIA is currently being sued in US courts by the ACLU and plaintiffs for its both government and privatized covert, minus judge and jury ‘extraordinary rendition’ detentions and target assassinations.
On a couple of side notes while Stallone is tending to sorting out world situations on screen, the Brazilian film company that assisted The Expendables in masterminding local mayhem incinerating various villages, has issued a formal complaint about not being reimbursed for their efforts. While Dolph Lundgren is doing double duty with this film and also Casino Jack, a documentary in part about how convicted Capitol Hill conman Jack Abramoff once aspired to be a Hollywood filmmaker too in the 1980s – and like Stallone, in a seeming bid to script the real world – with the Lundgren showcased anti-Soviet schlock epic, Red Scorpion.