Friday, August 15, 2014

The Expendables 3: Way past their prime

The Expendables 3 (2014) • View trailer 
Two stars. Rated PG-13, despite relentless violence, brutality and profanity

By Derrick Bang

What an overcooked, overlong, overloud waste of time.

Any semblance of the modestly clever, “aging Dirty Dozen” scenario — which the first film in this series possessed, to a minor degree, back in 2010 — has been buried in an endless, mindless fusillade of bullets, bombs and badly delivered, grade-Z dialogue.

Little realizing that their mission is about to go pear-shaped, Barney (Sylvester Stallone,
right) leads comrades Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) to
their unscheduled appointment with a notorious arms dealer.
I note star Sylvester Stallone’s credit for this film’s story, with further input from scripters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. The notion that three whole people were required to write this laughable mess, frankly, defies belief.

Okay, granted, we’re not talkin’ Shakespeare here. This series’ sole raison d’être is to gather a bunch of aging A-, B- and C-level action stars, feed them tough-guy one-liners, and set them loose against some power-mad villain with delusions of world domination. Cue the aforementioned bullets, bombs and badly delivered dialogue.

But the cartoonish qualities, admittedly present back in 2010, have devoured this tedious excuse for a threequel. The first film’s modest efforts at actual characterization — such as Charisma Carpenter’s presence as Lacy, tempestuous wife of Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) — have been jettisoned. Carpenter is a no-show here, as is any layering that might make us care a whit about these anti-heroes.

They’re simply well-muscled point-and-shoot stick figures who have no more actual screen presence in this chaos, than the army of uncredited stunt doubles who actually perform all of these crazed action scenes.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Mel Gibson makes a memorably crazed über-villain as psychotic arms dealer Conrad Stonebanks; Gibson knows how to chew his way through all this nonsense. In great contrast to Stallone’s morose, stone-faced non-performance as primary hero Barney Ross, Gibson enthusiastically embraces every aspect of Stonebanks’ bad-bad self. More power to him.

Newcomer Antonio Banderas also is a hoot as Galgo, an insecure chatterbox who threatens to bore everybody to death with his ceaseless prattle. Banderas’ performance — and patter — are an amped-up echo of his comic voice work as Puss in Boots, in the animated Shrek series; the irony is that this approach succeeds better than most everything else in this pinball machine of a movie.

Newbie director Patrick Hughes comes to this project from his debut feature, 2010’s little-known Red Hill, an Aussie splatter-western noteworthy mostly for the way it begged, borrowed and stole clichés from better films, with limited success. Hughes hasn’t learned much in four years, and he makes a common mistake here, by opening this third Expendables installment with its best action sequence: the helicopter rescue of Barney’s long-incarcerated former colleague, Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), from a moving train.

Unlike everything else to follow, this prologue is taut, crisply staged and well executed by editors Sean Albertson and Paul Harb ... and just ludicrous enough to be audaciously entertaining, without sliding into eye-rolling lunacy. (Not to worry; plenty of eye-rolling lunacy awaits.)

Having brought Doctor Death back into the team, Barney and his fellow Expendables are given a fresh assignment by CIA handler Max Drummer (Harrison Ford). The target is a notorious arms dealer operating under an alias; once within visual range, Barney is shocked to discover that their quarry actually is Stonebanks, a former colleague gone rogue, and believed dead.

Nope, very much alive. The mission goes south, Stonebanks raining all sorts of grief upon our heroes, leaving Barney with a serious crisis of conscience. Back at home, he disbands the team, insisting that his longtime colleagues have grown too old for such death-defying work.

(The same could be said about most of this cast, unwisely pushing their luck with a third entry in this geezer action franchise. But we’ll let that pass.)

It’s the least convincing argument in the known universe, and the taciturn Stallone gives it no conviction whatsoever. It’s really just a contrived excuse to sideline the old guys while Barney assembles a new team of younger, tougher recruits, with the help of retired mercenary Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer, not bad in a humorously cynical role).

Cue a Mission: Impossible-style gathering of talented youngsters, most of them not quite faceless, but certainly far from memorable. Their personalities are confined to their battlefield skills: Thorn (Glen Powell) is good with computers, and likes to free-climb; Smilee (Kellan Lutz) rides a mean motorcycle; and Mars (Victor Ortiz) ... actually, I’ve no idea what Mars is good at, and Ortiz makes no impression whatsoever.

The one exception is Luna (mixed martial artist and Olympic judo medalist Ronda Rousey), who catches our eye merely because she mixes it up just as well as the guys ... better, even, in several cases. She has the smooth moves that have made Statham so much fun, for so long. Rousey isn’t much of an actress, but she does know how to hold our attention.

Barney is determined to execute some serious payback on Stonebanks, but (of course!) things don’t go quite as planned. With the villain retaining the upper hand, Barney has no choice but to reunite with his former (aged) comrades.

And my, but we’re surprised. Never saw that one coming!


Cue the dog-nuts third act, set in a fictitious former Soviet satellite country, which finds all the good guys stuck in a huge crumbling building — a vast maze of twisted metal and concrete rubble (actually a former Bulgarian steel foundry) — and set upon by hundreds of corrupt soldiers, half a dozen tanks and three attack helicopters, all given their killing orders by Stonebanks.

Somehow, the odds remain even. ’Cause all those baddies are so disorganized, donchaknow.


We may as well be watching Iron Man, Captain American and the rest of the Avengers at work, because Barney & Co. are equally unstoppable, equally unkillable, even unbruiseable. This final melee goes on and on and on and on, long past the point of anybody’s willingness to give a damn.

Stallone, as co-scripter, obviously ensured his own maximized screen time; that’s a shame, because — as a so-called actor — he’s one of the least interesting people in this gang of misfits. (As already mentioned, Powell, Lutz and Ortiz aren’t much better.) The always dependable Terry Crews gets off a few good lines as Hale Caesar; Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren do little but growl and radiate menace as, respectively, Toll Road and Gunner Jensen.

Snipes exudes plenty of “cool” as Doctor Death, but little is made of his character’s lethal talents with knives; like everybody else, he spends most of his time shooting people. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Trench, the gang’s hired pilot, spends most of his time chomping on cigars.

Poor Jet Li, still battling health issues, is a shadow of his former glory; his presence here springs more from loyalty than any significant contribution by his character, Yin Yang.

Former James Bond baddie Robert Davi pops up for an eyeblink cameo as a ruthless fellow who wishes to purchase nuclear weapons from Gibson’s Stonebanks.

Brian Tyler contributes a noisy, obnoxious score that struggles for dominance against the frequent cacophony of gunfire and explosions.

Needless to say, the constant mayhem — scores (hundreds?) of anonymous goons being shot in the face, or getting their throats slit — make a mockery of this film’s PG-13 rating. What, the violence is less “real” because we don’t get gallons of blood splashed across the camera lens?

Once again: Puh-leaze.

There’s little to admire here, less to bother remembering. This saga’s introduction of a newer, younger crew of Expendables points to yet another entry in this already tired franchise; a fourth film has been announced, but its fate obviously rests with this one’s box-office results.

Which I dearly hope remain as stiff as Stallone’s morose features.

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