[Screen It]

(2010) (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham) (R)

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Action: A diverse group of mercenaries sets out to overthrow a military dictator and the rogue CIA agent working with him.
Barney Ross (SYLVESTER STALLONE) is the leader of a diverse group of mercenaries, the Expendables, who are hired by shady government types and such to do the dirty work others won't touch. After a pirate hostage rescue that resulted in Gunner Jensen (DOLPH LUNDGREN) being kicked out of the group due to his reported drug use making him untrustworthy, government spook Church (BRUCE WILLIS) hires the group to remove military dictator General Garza (DAVID ZAYAS) from power over the island country of Vilena.

Barney and knives expert Lee Christmas (JASON STATHAM) make the preliminary mission where they meet a local woman, Sandra (GISELLE ITIE), who wants nothing more than Garza ousted. But the two mercenaries barely make it back out alive, not only due to Garza's heavily armed forces, but also because rogue CIA agent James Munroe (ERIC ROBERTS) -- accompanied by his huge goon, Paine (STEVE AUSTIN) -- is really the one calling the shots.

After former Expendable member Tool (MICKEY ROURKE) convinces Barney they need to stand for something, he, Lee, martial arts expert Ying Yang (JET LI), weapons man Hale Caesar (TERRY CREWS) and brutish Toll Road (RANDY COUTURE) return to Vilena, prepared to rescue Sandra and overthrow both Garza and Munroe.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Like any red-blooded American male (and an ever-increasing amount of females), I love when the professional football season rolls around. There's just something about big men smashing and crashing into each other in battle, while others perform amazing feats of physical prowess, that you can't help but watch.

Yet the one game that would seem to have the most allure -- at least when viewed without much thought -- but doesn't really draw much attention from me or most others is the Pro Bowl. At least until this past year when it was moved to a week before the Super Bowl and thus couldn't use the players in that game, it was always the best of the best from the league.

It turns out, however, that unlike the baseball or basketball all-star games that can play out like glorified pick-up games, a great deal of actual planning needs to go into a football game lest 11 players on each side of the ball not be on the same page for running plays. And with none wanting to get hurt, the end result is a game that can have some spectacular plays and the general allure of a lot of talent on the field, but the game is rarely that exciting or involving.

With that in mind, "The Expendables" ends up being the Pro Bowl of action movies. Sure, there are a bunch of notable names and bigger than life personalities from the genre past and present, some individually fun scenes, lots of action and running around, and various, heavily muscled guys bashing each other's brains out. Like its football brethren, however, it comes off like a shallow imitator of the real thing, with not much in the way of plot or overall cohesiveness based on a solid game plan. In short, you really hope it works and want to like it, but it ends up feeling like a glorified gimmick rather than the real thing.

Its lead star, director and co-writer, Sylvester Stallone, certainly isn't any stranger to the field. Although the "Rocky" movies don't really qualify for this sort of action pic (despite revolving around big guys pummeling each other), Stallone made quite a name for himself with the "Rambo" flicks and others of that genre ilk and thus should know a thing or two about how these sorts of pics should operate.

For better or worse, however, Stallone and co-writer Dave Callaham opted to make a film like in the old days (that being the 1980s), where an old-school third world military dictator is making problems and the American forces come in to save the day, take names and kick some butt. To his credit, Stallone has assembled something of a dream team of action stars, although two of the biggest -- Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Wills -- only have brief cameos (but one of the biggest laughs revolving around one's post-movie star political aspirations).

Even so, we have Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Randy Couture and Mickey Rourke all involved one way or another with trying to stop or defeat a rogue CIA agent (Eric Roberts) who's responsible for terrorizing and/or roughing up the locals, including an alluring and feisty woman (Giselle Itiť). There really isn't much plot to speak of, with just enough storyline being present upon which to hang a number of action set pieces.

Most of them are old-school as well, with lots of big explosions, gun battles and the like, while some more modern day action fighting -- courtesy of Statham and Li -- is also present. Things don't really pick up until the third act when Stallone and company amp up the violence and testosterone, all of which makes one wonder why the likes of other genre regulars such as Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan and/or Chow Yun-Fat are MIA.

After all, if you're going to make such a flick, why not go all out and adopt the more is merrier mindset? But why stop there? It would have been fun (although potentially expensive and/or tricky to coordinate legally) if the performers were actually playing characters from their movie pasts, or if the filmmakers would have decided to throw some female action stars (such as Linda Hamilton, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Yeoh, Milla Jovovich or even Angelina Jolie) into the mix. That not only could have potentially drawn in more female viewers, but might have also created some fun and adversarial, battle of the sexes mojo to the proceedings.

Not surprisingly, and sadly never really brought up and/or played for laughs, there's little material revolving around these guys, their ages, and/or their glory days of battle being behind them. Similarly falling into the lack of surprise category, the best material revolves around Li (especially in terms of comic relief, most of which stems from his diminutive size compared to the others) and Statham on the action side.

Like Matt Damon in the "Bourne" flicks, the latter actor is quite impressive in fight mode, and the film lights up whenever he steps, runs, kicks or knives his way into action. Conversely, when he's not center stage it feels like, well, a let-down and a not particularly imaginative recreation and/or riff on the genre period that paved the way for so many of these guys to become movie stars.

Coming off like an all-star game with notable faces and a few exciting plays but not much in the way of an entertaining game plan, "The Expendables" ends up as an overall disappointment. It rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 9, 2010 / Posted August 13, 2010

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