Tuesday, 10 August 2010


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Bucking the cinematic trend of recent 1980s remakes, Sylvester Stallone, as director, co-writer and star of The Expendables, has made an "original" action film as though it was indeed sill the '80s. Akin to the violent actioners like Rambo and Commando which reflected the Republican Reagan-era politics of the time, it's as though the project was greenlit during the latter stages of the 2008 US presidential campaign and Sarah Palin (god forbid!) looked headed for the White House.

That latter nightmare scenario thankfully failed to eventuate but it didn't prevent The Expendables being completed - and released. Sly is Barney Ross, head of a team of mercenaries who go in where others fear to tread; the film opens in Somalia where pirates holding Westerners hostage are about to wish they'd traded movies for the high seas.

A rag tag bunch, Ross’s team comprises of one or two superannuated action stars (Sly and his Rocky IV nemesis Dolph Lundgren), some recognisable actors of today (the dad from TV's Everybody Hates Chris) and two not-so-old action stars in Jason Statham and Jet Li.

Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger also make brief cameos, and while Willis can still mix it with the big boys (though he doesn't here, perhaps saving himself for the rigours of shooting Die Hard 5), Schwarzenegger looks as though the Governorship of California has taken its toll.

Willis' Mr Church enlists Sly's team to fly down to some South American isle where a rogue CIA agent (Eric Roberts, another '80s throwback) has set up a puppet dictatorship. The dictator's daughter leads the resistance and it is for her the team returns to the isle; Sly inspired by the words of former teammate now tattoo artist-cum-sage, Mickey Rourke.

From then on the film becomes a 'How To' guide - 1001 ways to kill a man - where knives, bullets, bombs and good old fashioned fisticuffs are deployed. Subtle and witty it's not. It's like Ocean's Eleven for neanderthals, a very poor man's Dirty Dozen. But the body count, and various ways in which that count is achieved, makes Quentin Tarantino's recent Dirty Dozen homage, Inglourious Basterds, resemble a Pixar film in comparison.

At a stretch you could probably call The Expendables a guilty pleasure but you would have to have been raised on a diet of '80s action flicks by Stallone, Arnie et al, and have a continuing soft spot for these ultra-masculine specimens now reduced to dinosaurs, to get any real enjoyment from it. Or maybe you're a Sarah Palin fan and The Expendables works well as both entertainment and a blueprint for foreign policy: America, fuck yeah!

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