Talking Movies

August 13, 2014

The Expendables 3

Sylvester Stallone and his band of arthritic action heroes return for a surprisingly decent third instalment in this underwhelming franchise.

The-Expendables-3-wallpaper

Barney Ross (Stallone) and his mercenary crew; Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews; use a helicopter to rescue long-imprisoned Expendable Doc (Wesley Snipes) from a prison train. Their CIA contact Drummer (Harrison Ford) then dispatches the team to Somalia to capture an arms-dealer, but faulty intelligence fails to identify the target as another former Expendable: the extremely dangerous Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). A broken Stallone recruits a new, much younger team – a tech specialist; Thorn (Glen Powell); some muscle; Mars (Victor Ortiz), Luna (Ronda Rousey); and a tactician Smilee (Kellan Lutz). They go up against Stonebanks in Eastern Europe with a foolproof plan. And then a shattered Stallone recruits demented Spaniard Galgo (Antonio Banderas) for another go round at Stonebanks… At this rate he may well need Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Yin (Jet Li) to selflessly help him out.

The Expendables franchise isn’t nearly as funny and knowing as it thinks it is. Its idea of meta-comedy is for actors to make obvious references to their lives and quote past roles without any jokes attached. Indeed its funniest meta-moments are unintentional, the obvious cutaways and wide-angles disguising creaking bones in fight scenes. As a PG-13 movie the CGI blood that bedevilled the last movie is mercifully absent, but instead we have the hilarity of people not being bisected by a steel wire on a fast-moving train in the opening sequence; whose cartoonish climax flags a problem for the whole film – outrageously bad CGI. If, per Nolan and Pfister, cinema is about capturing live-action on film, it makes no sense at all for an action film to stage an elaborate live-action build-up only for the pay-off to be a screensaver.

The outsize cast barely fits on the poster, so predictably most make no impression whatsoever; except MMA fighter Ronda Rousey whose face registers amusement or annoyance – and nothing else… Stallone’s screenplay has been worked over by Olympus Has Fallen scribes Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, but they only manage to make Banderas a live-action Puss in Boots while failing to deliver any good quips. Kelsey Grammer as a fixer gives the impression of ad-libbing the funniest moments of his ‘putting the heist together’ scenes, as does Gibson whose charisma veritably leaps off the screen in this company. There is a quantum leap in directorial competence as Patrick Hughes (the brutal and atmospheric Red Hill) showily stages the extraction at an art gallery with some panache, but even he can’t save the over-extended warzone finale and its ludicrously motivated boss fight.

The Expendables 3 isn’t a genuinely good movie, but as the best instalment so far it legitimately makes this question seriously tantalising – what could this franchise be with Robert Rodriguez or Roland Emmerich onboard?

2.5/5

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August 15, 2012

The Expendables 2

66 year-old Sylvester Stallone regrettably returns for the second outing in this postmodern tongue-in-cheek action franchise made by people who don’t know what postmodernism means and don’t have their tongues-in-cheeks.

The Expendables 2 begins with Stallone’s soldiers of fortune rampaging around Nepal, saving a hostage or two, before making their covert getaway in the world’s most conspicuous plane. The film continues in this vein; thunderously loud, with much posturing like 1980s action heroes by the aged cast of 1980s action heroes. Groanworthy references are made from time to time as hundreds of enemies on various continents are dispatched with explosions of CGI blood so ridiculous that they resemble the zombies/water balloons of Planet Terror. But, when Bruce Willis sends Stallone and Jason Statham to Albania to retrieve a Maguffin with the help of Jet Li’s replacement Nan Yu, they (and their loyal crew of Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, and Liam Hemsworth) meet their match in the villainous Jean-Claude Van Damme… But some familiar faces might balance the odds.

It’s hard not to wish that Robert Rodriguez at the top of his game was in charge of this franchise. You might think that losing Stallone as a director might improve this franchise but, aside from the script, the real shock of this movie is that Simon Con Air West doesn’t bring much visual panache to this nonsense. Instead it’s only slightly better directed than the lensing of Dolph Lundgren’s inert 2004 directorial debut The Defender, and the opening sequence in particular bafflingly shares Lundgren’s utter inability to convey basic action geography. The unrelenting autumnal colour palette employed by West quickly becomes quite dreary. The best moments are Jet Li fighting with pots and pans, the State using a censer as a mace, and Nan Yu letting rip on some goons; to wit the actors young enough for action movies.

Van Damme proved in JCVD that he’s still in shape and can actually act when pushed, but JCVD had a level of playfulness in its writing that is simply beyond The Expendables. Arnold Schwarzenegger saying “I’m back” before a couple of notes of his Terminator motif play isn’t that funny a touch. Chuck Norris delivering the punch-line of a Chuck Norris joke after Stallone feeds him the set-up might be hilarious, if he hadn’t delivered about 5 of them in a row on Jay Leno’s show a few years ago. These touches, which are few and far between, are meant to disguise the fact that this is a veritable computer-generated basic cable action script, worked on by many different writers, that could just as easily have been directed by Dolph Lundgren on a miniscule budget and gone straight to DVD.

For a genuine tongue-in-cheek see Robert Rodriguez or Alexandre Aja because this is just a bad movie shamelessly masquerading as a gleefully bad movie.

1/5

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