Review: 'The Expendables'

Take this as either a) a reason to question the review that follows, or b) evidence that Internet crowd-sourcing isn't going to make professional critics obsolete for a while yet. As I type these lines, Sylvester Stallone's ode to schlock (or is that "eau d'schlock"?) "The Expendables" has an IMDb user rating of 9.0 out of 10.

That's two-tenths of a point behind "The Godfather." Almost half a point above "Citizen Kane." It's even higher than classics the fanboy crowd agrees on, such as "Seven Samurai," "Pulp Fiction" and (gasp!) "The Empire Strikes Back."

Such is the unreasonable enthusiasm some moviegoers feel when Hollywood deigns to whip up a flavor of junk food they haven't been able to get since they were kids - since back when the definition of a good movie was "things blew up" and the only thing you wanted to talk about at school was how, and where, and how many times the muscled American punctured the bodies of the sweaty non-Americans.

"The Expendables" isn't as jingoistic as some of the militaristic action flicks of the '80s, but it matches their vibe in many other ways: in its washed-out, unpleasant color scheme; with a score so generic you might swear you hear it repeat, the way video-game music does when you take a long time killing the zombies; in its total lack of curiosity about the exotic locales where blood is spilled and spurted.

Most of all, it embraces to the point of asphyxiation the kind of macho caricatures that filled those movies. Here, we get no fewer than eight big dudes posing around Stallone on the movie poster - half of them with shaved heads that plead, "I swear I'm not balding!" Sly goes the opposite direction, with a black, curiously shaped goatee/eyebrow arrangement that, throughout the film, seems designed to distract us from questions about any other "work" he might've had done.

If only Stallone, who co-wrote the script, had hired a collaborator with a sense of humor. "The Expendables" is stuffed with the kind of wisecracks that substitute for men comparing their private parts, and these lines fall dead at a rate that rivals the flesh-and-blood carnage outside.

The banter is most painful in the short scene where Bruce Willis (in his only appearance onscreen, despite getting equal billing on the poster) meets Stallone to offer him an assassination mission. In walks a certain bulky Austrian who "wants to be president," and the two snap at each other like retired salesmen in Boca who once fought over the same account. Willis clearly enjoys pitting them against each other; why doesn't the script reheat some "Moonlighting"-era wisecrack for the occasion? (Only bad guy Eric Roberts ever gets a laugh here, and even he is hit-or-miss.)

When it comes to bullets and bombs, these guys expend plenty of them. But quantity doesn't guarantee quality. This is the kind of action that might satisfy you if you discovered it on a sun-bleached videotape in the 25-cent bin somewhere - a forgotten Cannon Films production whose biggest star was a shirtless guy with dead eyes and a funny name. But as the product of half the action stars still able to work in Hollywood? Sorry, IMDb users, but I'm not impressed.

'The Expendables'

Our grade: D

Genres: Adventure, Action

Running Time: 103 min

MPAA rating: R

Release Date: Aug 13, 2010