Sunday 12 August 2012

From the archive: "The Expendables"

The real heroes of The Expendables are a pair of women: casting directors Deborah Aquila and Mary Tricia Wood, who've managed to wrangle most of the biggest action stars of the past three decades - and, no less impressively, their egos - into the same feature. This is a lot of brawn for one movie; if the DVD were made available in butchers' shops, the proprietors could slice it into slivers, and sell it off by the pound. Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Jet Li get the above-the-title billing as former marines-turned-mercenaries roped into one last mission south of the border, but the project has been conceived upon roughly similar lines as such tatty 1970s items as The Wild Geese - as an old warriors' club - and the gang is, in a very real sense, all here.

The opening fifteen minutes of The Expendables alone offer Dolph Lundgren trying to hang a pirate, and Mickey Rourke showing up on a motorbike with a tattooed blonde floozy riding pillion, as though Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man had simply never happened. (No Marlboros here, mind: Rourke instead smokes a long-necked pipe last seen adorning the lips of Bilbo Baggins.) Stallone has one scene in a church with Bruce (Willis) and Arnie (Schwarzenegger) - an unholy communion, if ever there was, though it'll doubtless have Hollywood execs fondly recalling those days when actual human names above a title could guarantee bumper box-office. Even the sultry general's daughter the leads rescue en route (Giselle Itié) has a jaw that looks as though it might well withstand the rigours of a Tijuana bar fight.

Stallone co-wrote and directed as well as starring, and you'd have loved to have been at the script meetings, not least as the muscles (or, to be more precise, the muscles on the muscles) upon his forearms look to have pulled his already palsied-seeming face down further, and left his diction muddied more than that of even Jackie Chan. It's possible he truly wanted to make a sensitive drama about oldtimers attempting to make peace with themselves and the world, only for co-writer David Callaham to have misheard Stallone's "gums" as "guns" and "subtle intimations of mortality" as "automatic anti-tank rifles". With a complete absence of irony, Stallone the director sees fit to subtitle the English of a Somali warlord whose enunciation is positively Rex Harrison-like set against the leading man and much of the rest of the cast.

Obliviousness - an obliviousness to the passing of time in particular - is what The Expendables thrives on, and also what it asks of us as cinemagoers. Odd spasms of B-movie wit are apparent - as in the smackdown between Lundgren and Li under low-hanging struts the once-great Dane keeps banging his head on - but too often, like an abusive spouse, the film reverts to lumpen, neck-breaking type. It is The Movie That Evolution Forgot. Of the cast, only Willis, Rourke and Statham have any feel for the comic-ironic grace notes that might have distinguished The Expendables from any other direct-to-DVD trash; the rest play it as though it were 1987, when John Cougar Mellencamp was riding high in the charts, dry, unmoisturised skin could be worn as a badge of manly honour, and their careers didn't need rescuing through prominent repackaging stunts such as the film is.

You may get some enjoyment out of The Expendables if you can get in to see it this Saturday night, but it feels fatally limited to the doings of boys and their toys. "You goin' to start sucking each other's dicks?," Willis asks a gulping Arnie and Sly; even the garage-cum-tattoo bar the heroes hang out in goes under the name Tool's. In its quieter moments, the dialogue brings up the dames these lone wolves let slip through their sausage fingers, but quiet moments are few and far between, to tell the truth. "Friends die together," Li insists early on in proceedings, and as our burly writer-director-star leaves Itié behind at the airport to once more ease himself into Statham's welcoming cockpit, The Expendables sets off finally in the direction of a love that dare not - and in Stallone's case, cannot - speak its name.

(August 2010)

The Expendables 2 opens in cinemas nationwide on Thursday.

No comments:

Post a Comment