Sylvester Stallone still calls the shots for the mindless mayhem of The Expendables
Comtemporary thespians James Franco and Anne Hathaway were brought in to co-host the Feb. 27 Academy Awards ceremonies, an obvious attempt to win over a younger demographic of viewers who already think awards shows are tedious televised affairs. Which this year’s Oscar broadcast certainly was, except for the moment when 94-year-old Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas effortlessly stole the evening as the presenter of the Best Supporting Actress honor. Sure, Douglas had trouble with words, which happens when you’re past 90 and a stroke victim, and there probably won’t be too many more live-on-stage cameos in his future. Yet it was evident how much fun Douglas had while soaking up that spotlight, offering tangible proof that aging is inevitable—but it doesn’t have to be a drag, either.
For that matter, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if, 30 years down the road, Sylvester Stallone will also be in charge of a similar Oscar presenter chore, and likewise handle it with Douglas’ mix of grace and good humor. Stallone’s summertime box-office hit The Expendables (Lions Gate; 103 minutes; R; widescreen; 2010), now out on DVD from Lions Gate Home Entertainment, demonstrates that there is still no quit in the 64-yearold muscle-bound star, and if he’s ever going to leave show business, he’ll surely go out with a big bang.
Indeed, Stallone doesn’t have much more to prove at this point, especially after he successfully jump-started two of his older franchises with 21st-century continuations of the Rocky and Rambo tentpoles. Yet he’s still a part of the big-screen game, unlike other Reagan-era ass-kickers like Steven Seagal (now consigned to direct-to-DVD low-budgeters) and Chuck Norris (sidekick to Mike Huckabee), perhaps because Stallone also knows how to write screenplays and sit in a director’s chair. And he still keeps coming back despite periodic career setbacks (think Driven, Oscar, Judge Dredd, the awful Get Carter remake and so on) that would have spelled doom for lesser Tinseltown lights.
Stallone’s script for The Expendables, co-written with David Callaham, won’t fool viewers of older machismo-drenched works such as The Dirty Dozen, The Devil’s Brigade and The Dogs of War. Stallone’s character, Barney Ross, and his squad of beret-wearing, motorcycle-ridin’ mercenaries (some are portrayed by a motley crew of martial-arts and wrestling luminaries) are hired to overthrow General Garza (David Zayas), the dictator of a South American island. Things get complicated for various reasons, such as Garza’s purty daughter Sandra (Giselle Itie) rebelling against her dad because of his ties to a sleazeball former CIA agent (Eric Roberts), not to mention that fellow Expendable Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) has morphed into a dope addict and has sided with the evil forces.
Credit Stallone for trying to keep such steroidal silliness on the light side. A number of characters have funny names, such as Jason Statham as Lee Christmas, the Brit bladethrower with girlfriend issues; kung-fu star Jet Li as Yin Yang; ex-football star Terry Crews as Hale Caesar; fighting champ Randy Couture as Toll Road; and wrassler Steve Austin as, quite simply, Paine. More comedy ensues when Jet Li must bear the brunt of the script’s “you’re so short” jokes. Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke, the one guy in the cast who seems more cosmetically enhanced than Stallone, plays a philosophical tattoo artist and Expendable guru who gets to mumble his dialogue, such as his diagnosis that Gunnar “has gone Crankenstein.”
OK, so it’s not The King’s Speech, but this deliberately cheesy thriller does have an oldschool appeal. Stallone manages to embrace 1980s comic book/movie conventions while spoofing them: the macho dialogue (Stallone and Statham banter/brag about which one killed more villains during the opening bloodbath), the endless body count and the ridiculous postscript that leaves the barnyard door wide open for a sequel. (But if Stallone enlists the non-acting talents of Howie Long and Brian Bosworth for the second round, we’re so outta here.) As demonstrated in the last Rambo effort, Stallone boasts a kinetic style for The Expendables’ many action sequences, although a number of nighttime shots are just too damn dark to fathom what’s going on.
And Stallone seems to be offering some amusing cinematic shorthand near the finale, as he lingers on a shot of the mercenaries’ plane getting shoved into automatic pilot—an indication that the movie’s in cruise control, too, right down to its bullet-riddled end game. Yet nothing approaches the realm of tongue-incheekery more than The Expendables’ cameoladen scene involving Stallone’s reunion with his Planet Hollywood restaurateur buddies Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as their movie characters try to out-testosterone each other with deadpan one-liners and murderous glares. Jason Statham is probably the next action hero who has a decent shot at longterm stardom, but he’s got miles to go before he can reach the iconic levels achieved by this long-in-the-tooth threesome.
Lions Gate Home Entertainment has issued The Expendables in several DVD versions, including a standard disc that has a number of extras and a combo package of DVD and Blu-Ray discs plus a digital copy, although the pack’s DVD has just the movie and the Blu-Ray has all the special features. The movie itself boasts a letterboxed widescreen ratio of 2.40:1, and as previously cited, some of the darker images might have to be lightened on TV monitors. The extras haven’t been seen by these peepers, although one can only hope that Stallone’s comments during the Comic-Con 2010 panel discussion make the cut, such as his statement (reported on the Deadline Hollywood site) that he filmed in Brazil because “you can kill people and blow the whole country up and they’ll say ‘Thank you’ and give you a monkey.”
Pecs and wrecks: Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables.