Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Expendables 3 / ** (PG-13)

Barney Ross: Sylvester Stallone
Lee Christmas: Jason Statham
Drummer: Harrison Ford
Trench: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Stonebanks: Mel Gibson
Doc: Wesley Snipes
Gunner Jenson: Dolph Lundgren
Toll Road: Randy Couture
Caesar: Terry Crews
Bonaparte: Kelsey Grammer
Thorn: Glen Powell
Galgo: Antonio Banderas
Mars: Victor Ortiz
Luna: Ronda Rousey
Smilee: Kellan Lutz
Goran Vata: Robert Davi
Yin Yang: Jet Li

Lionsgate presents a film directed by Patrick Hughes. Written by Sylvester Stallone and Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt. Based on characters created by David Callaham. Running time: 126 min. Rated PG-13 (for violence including sustain gun battles and fight scenes, and for language).

Here’s the thing. I really wanted “The Expendables” franchise to be a great badass cheesey return to 80’s action flicks. I wanted this so bad that I returned to it every time they released a new one despite how bad the last one was. “The Expendables 3” is actually the best of the bunch, but these star-packed action debacles have obviously worn out their welcome.

More than any previous “Expendables” film this one pushes how over the hill these action dinosaurs are, and that’s saying something because the first two really kinda shoved that fact down their audience’s throats. The difference here is that for the first time in the series Sylvester Stallone’s leading character, Barney Ross, really seems to consider this fact. That’s about the total amount of depth the movie can muster, but it’s more than the previous two.

As the film opens, the Expendables crew is in the process of breaking a big angry looking black man out of a train heading toward some sort of Russian looking maximum security prison. The crew only consists of four. It seems age is causing a dwindling in the ranks. And don’t they already have a big angry black man on the crew? Well, since Terry Crews has his own hit television show now, his role must be reduced to fit his busy schedule, so a replacement is necessary. It’s fitting he be replaced by a big has been action star, since Crews’ star is really just starting to rise. Wesley Snipes plays Doc, whom the crew breaks free from the train. He has a nice jab at the legal troubles that led to his disappearance from film for the past decade or so.

Doc is from the original Expendables team and when they go straight from the prison break on a mission to stop a weapon’s dealer, they discover that their new enemy is also from their original crew and is also played by a has been 80s and 90s action star, Mel Gibson. Gibson has also had his own public image problems, like Snipes. I wonder how many other original Expendables members need Stallone to help their PR people out by putting them in a new movie.

When Barney realizes that he’ll be facing off with his old partner, he kicks everyone out of the band and hires a new crew of kids that he will supposedly has no feelings for, so it will be OK when they die? This allows Stallone to throw a bone to a has been 80s and 90s sitcom star, Kelsey Grammer, as his talent scout for a montage sequence to put together a new team. He gathers together a few kids whom I don’t recognize from anything, but supposedly hold some sort of fame already and Antonio Banderas, who fakes his resume as a much younger mercenary to get Barney to look at him.

What works about this movie, is that unlike the previous two films it actually takes its time to set up action sequences, motivations, jokes and even the plot to a degree. The first two action sequences—the one that introduces Snipes’ character and the one that introduces Gibson’s—are both really good action sequences. The editing doesn’t cut them to shreds of random images without any continuity. You can actually tell how characters get from point A to point D and the B and C in between.

Unfortunately, it devolves as the movie stumbles along, falling back on the current action clich├ęs of just lining up bad guys for the good guys to knock down, montages of explosions and people ducking and falling without any sense of spatial awareness. Barney turns back on all the standards he imposes on everyone else because as we all knew they really couldn’t stand when you have Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li standing on the sidelines with a bunch of nobodies getting into it. Oh, And Arnold Schwarzenegger finally gets involved full tilt with his character Trench, who was relegated to cameos in the previous films. And Harrison Ford replaces Bruce Willis’s government man, bringing in a higher standard of charm.

I got the impression while watching the movie that this would be the final assignment for “The Expendables”. The fact that this one flopped at the box office probably sealed that tomb. That’s probably for the best. It always felt like this was an experiment that just wasn’t working. It never felt like it was ever a real movie, even at its foundation. Stallone wonderfully wrote and directed comeback movies for his two most famous characters in “Rocky Balboa” and “Rambo”. While it seemed this franchise might provide him the opportunity to do the same for some of the stars that rose to fame in the 80s based on his success, that was never quite what “The Expendables” presented. Maybe we can get another worthwhile Rambo or Rocky picture again. Or maybe it’s just time to move on in a similar way to Clint Eastwood.

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