The Expendables 3

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Directed by Patrick Hughes

Produced by Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton, Danny Lerner, Les Weldon and John Thompson

Screenplay by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt and Sylvester Stallone

Based on a story by Sylvester Stallone

Based on characters by David Callaham

It seems like a small and petty thing, I know. But every time I watch an Expendables movie I always wish I had thought to name one of my characters Hale Caesar before these series of movies started. What does that have to do with my review of THE EXPENDABLES 3? Absolutely nothing. It was just a random thought that occurred to me when Terry Crews showed up on the screen I thought I’d share. The time it took for me to relate that thought is also about the same amount of screen time that Terry Crews/Hale Caesar has before he’s shot by Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) the man who co-founded The Expendables along with Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) Stonebanks turned on his own team to become an illegal international weapons dealer, forcing Barney to come after him. Barney thought he had killed Stonebanks. He thought wrong.

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Barney’s CIA contact Max Drummer (Harrison Ford) tells Barney he’s got one more shot at Stonebanks as he’s wanted by The Hague to stand trial as a war criminal. For reasons that are never really made clear, Barney fires his current team: His second-in-command and knife expert Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) Sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundren) Demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) one of the original Expendables who just might be as good if not better with knives as Lee Christmas and also acts as team medic.

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With the help of “talent scout” Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) Barney recruits a younger, hipper squad of Expendables: ex-Navy Seal John Smilee (Kellan Lutz) Hand-to-hand combat specialist and professional bouncer Luna (Ronda Rousy) hacker Thorn (Glenn Powell) and sharpshooter Mars (Victor Ortiz) The one more shot at Stonebanks goes fubar and Barney has to swallow his pride to get his old team back to help him rescue the kids, assisted by Barney’s best frenemy Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger) martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li) and Galgo (Antonio Banderas) expert sharpshooter and professional madman.

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Whew. Sounds like a lot to keep track of, doesn’t it? Well, there are a whole lot of characters and because we’ve got so many characters, the plot seems a lot more complicated than it actually is. While I enjoyed THE EXPENDABLES 3 a lot I can’t help but think that this one should have focused totally on the Stonebanks plot and saved recruiting a new team of younger Expendables for the fourth movie. Because the biggest WTH in the movie is Barney firing the old guys who most certainly have more of a reason for taking Stonebanks down since it’s their teammate he put in the hospital and both Barney and Doctor Death were on the original team betrayed by Stonebanks.

It also sticks out like the moles on Morgan Freeman’s face that the movie adheres to the rule that there can only be one black guy on a team at a time. Me, I’d have had Gunner get shot and near death for most of the movie’s running time. Nothing against Dolph Lundgren, understand. I just like Terry Crews/Hale Caesar more and would have enjoyed seeing him get more screen time and usually it’s him and Randy Couture who get shorted in the two sequels we’ve had.

The acting honors in this one goes to Mel Gibson who played a bad guy in “Machete Kills” and stole that movie like he steals this one. Stonebanks really doesn’t have much characterization or motivation for what he does but he’s a bad guy who so obviously enjoys being a bad guy I ended up liking him a lot. And Antonio Banderas is practically a live action cartoon as a mercenary desperate to join The Expendables who simply cannot stop talking. Banderas acts totally off the wall and is obviously having a lot of fun. Out of all the new Expendables introduced I’d most like to see him and Ronda Rousey return. A female MMA who is ranked at being #1 in the world in her class, she gets some really terrific fight scenes in the climactic battle between The Expendables, old team and new versus the onslaught of Stonebanks’ private army. I really enjoyed the chemistry she has with Banderas and hope they exploit it in the next movie (what, you really think that there isn’t going to be an “Expendables 4?’)

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I’ve heard and read some less than favorable reviews of THE EXPENDABLES 3 and I’m not going to say that they’re not valid. But for me, I went into the movie expecting nothing more an an action movie version of “The Avengers” and that’s what I got. For me it’s just a lot of fun seeing all these actors together on the same screen blowing shit up and shooting everything in sight. I’ve heard some complaints that there’s really no reason for people like Harrison Ford and Kelsey Grammer to be in the movie and that Jet Li should have had more to do. I was perfectly happy with Kelsey Grammer coming in, doing what he’s supposed to be doing and then he’s gone. Jet Li has already been established as a team member so having him show up for the final fight to back up his friends is okay by me.

So should you see THE EXPENDABLES 3? If you saw and enjoyed the first two, then Yes. The action sequences will definitely get your adrenaline pumping and I for one appreciated the effort on the part of the screenwriters to give us a story totally different from from the first two “Expendables” and at least make an effort to take the franchise in a new direction. Now the real test is going to come in “The Expendables 4” Are the new kids going to stick around and we’ll see Barney work at integrating the old-timers with the new kids and teaching them how to work as one unit? I hope so. We’ll see. In the meantime, go see THE EXPENDABLES 3 and have a good time.

126 minutes

Rated PG-13

 

Escape Plan

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2013

Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom

Produced by Robbie Brenner and Mark Canton

Screenplay by Jason Keller and Miles Chapman

Story by Miles Chapman

My guess is that Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had way more fun acting together than they thought they would in the two “Expendables” movies. In the first “Expendables” Stallone and Schwarzenegger shared the screen (along with Bruce Willis) for maybe two or three minutes. “The Expendables 2” gave Stallone and Schwarzenegger more screen time together but ESCAPE PLAN has them truly co-starring for the first time in an action movie together. And let’s be honest, seeing two of the greatest and most successful action stars of the 80’s in a movie together is the drawing power of this movie. What surprised me is that there also was a damn good story to go along with the pairing of Stallone and Schwarzenegger with Ah-nuld doing some really good acting.

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Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is partnered with Lester Clark (Vincent D’Onofrio) in a highly unusual security firm. Ray is an absolute genius at breaking out of maximum security prisons. To date he’s broken out of 14. The goal is to show where the weaknesses in the prison security are so that they can be corrected. Ray is offered an obscene amount of money by the CIA to test a top secret corporately funded prison. The Tomb is an experiment in escape proof prisons. The location is secret and unlike most prisons, since it’s run by a for-profit corporation, if you have enough money to pay them to keep somebody you don’t like locked up for as long as you like, it’s all good.

Turns out that Ray has been set up. Warden Hobbs (Jim Caviezel) informs him that The Tomb was built using Ray’s own textbook he wrote on how to build escape proof prisons. A book Hobbs keeps on his desk. The cell walls are transparent, the robotic looking guards have no problem beating prisoners into submission and Hobbs himself is totally merciless when it comes to maintaining order in his prison. Ray’s support team (Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) have no idea where he is or how to find him and Lester is no help at all

However, Ray still believes he can break out, using his method of Layout/Routine/Help. But the help this time comes in the hulking form of a fellow prisoner, Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who joins up with Ray. He’ll use his resources in The Tomb to help Ray and in return, when Ray breaks out, he’ll take Rottmayer with him.

Having spent an obscene amount of time during the 1980’s going to see their movies, I was delighted to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger back in action yet again. Yeah, yeah, I know that they’re older…but so am I. The screenplay affords them the opportunity to use their brains and wits more than they did in their past movies. If this had been made during the 80’s, Stallone and Schwarzenegger would simply have beat the hell out of everybody and walked out of the prison.

The surprising thing here is that Schwarzenegger walks away with the acting honors as he’s the comedy relief in this movie. I estimate he’s got 65% of the funny lines in the movie and it’s truly amusing to watch him and Stallone as a musclebound Crosby/Hope pairing. He also has a great scene where he has to provide a distraction for his partner and goes into a religious rant spoken entirely in German. And he proves that he’s still got it in the action scenes. There’s a part where he finally gets his hand on a heavy machine gun and the audience in the theater just about went nuts because we all knew what was coming next.

Almost as good is Faran Tahir as Javed, the leader of the prison’s Muslim population who joins up with Ray and Rottmayer. The way the relationship between him and Rottmayer is really interesting to watch and it’s always a bonus to see a Muslim character in this type of movie depicted as a man of respect, devout faith and intelligence.

Stallone plays a more cerebral character than we’re used to him seeing and I liked how his smarts was displayed. When Ray is explaining how he’s going to execute his plans and breaks it down step by step, it’s jaw-droppingly good the way director Mikael Hafstrom uses CGI diagrams and floor plans to help explain.

Jim Caviezel is nothing less than amazing and if you like him playing a good guy on TV’s “Person of Interest” then you’re going to enjoy even more seeing him play a bad guy. He’s the best kind of bad guy: the one who doesn’t have to raise his voice because he has no doubt he’s in control. Vinnie Jones as his chief enforcer/guard does his usual barking-mad-foaming-at-the-mouth badass. Nothing special here but Vinnie Jones has got this type of role locked down so well it should have his copyright on it.

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Wish I could say more about Amy Ryan and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson but the truth of the matter is that they really don’t have much to do other than yell at Lester about why isn’t he doing anything to find Ray. Sam Neill picks up a neat paycheck for playing The Tomb’s doctor. I hate to see an actor of Sam Neill’s talent wasted and he’s here in this movie for one reason and one reason only: to send an email.

So should you see ESCAPE PLAN? If you’re a fan of 80’s action movies and want to watch a movie that’s a throwback to that decade, Yes. If you’re a fan of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Yes. If you want to watch a decent action thriller that’s a little bit smarter and better acted than it needed to be, Yes.

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115 minutes

Rated R: For violence and language. The “F” bomb must have been dropped about fifty times in this movie so if you’ve got sensitive ears, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Rocky Balboa

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2006

MGM

Directed and Written by Sylvester Stallone

Produced by Kevin King, Charles Winkler and David Winkler

 I’m sure that many of you, like me, damn near laughed yourself into a hernia upon hearing that Sylvester Stallone was going to make yet another ‘Rocky.’ movie.  After I had my sore ribs taped up and calmed down, I thought about it a little more.  And I found that I really couldn’t blame Stallone.  Here’s a guy who sincerely worked his ass off to step out and try other roles and expand his range as an actor.  I confess that I thought “Oscar” was hilarious and he should have gotten one for “Copland.”  Unfortunately the public got burned one too many times by stinkers such as “Judge Dredd” “Assassins” and “Driven.”  Rocky Balboa is the character Sylvester Stallone is most closely identified and really, is it at all surprising that Stallone would want to bring the story of his favorite and best loved character to a better and more fitting end than the one we got in the dismal and depressing “Rocky V”?  So I sat down with my wife and popped in the DVD of ROCKY BALBOA with an open mind but not expecting much from the movie.  And by the time it was over I was pleasantly surprised at how much I had actually enjoyed the film.  ROCKY BALBOA wasn’t made just so that Stallone could pick up a fat paycheck.  The movie is amazingly emotional and heartfelt.  To honest, boxing really doesn’t matter in this movie.  It isn’t about boxing at all.

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has settled down to a quiet retired life in Philadelphia.  He owns and operates a small but fairly successful restaurant named after his beloved Adrian (Talia Shire) who has died.  His pain-in-the-ass brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) continues to be a pain-in-the-ass but Rocky loves him still.  He’d like to be able to share more of that love with his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) but Junior’s too busy being pissed at his dad for having once been the world heavyweight champion.  Junior feels he’s living in his old man’s shadow and has never had a chance to be his own man and earn his own respect.  Rocky spends his time at the restaurant telling the same old stories to patrons who have heard the stories so many times that they recite them right along with Rocky.  He’s bored, he’s depressed and he misses Adrian with a heart wrenching desperation that he can barely articulate.

Things begin to happen that awaken the embers of the fire that used to burn in his heart: he’s introduced to Marie (Geraldine Hughes) a bartender who Rocky actually met years ago when he was just starting out as a boxer and she was a little girl.  She’s grown up now and has a son of her own; Stephenson (nicknamed ‘Steps’) who’s a little wary of what he sees as a punch-drunk has-been keeping time with his moms.  As it turns out, Rocky is less interested in romance than he is in simply making new relationships and trying to keep his life moving forward.  He wants to let go of the past but doesn’t know how and maybe befriending Marie and her son will help.

One night ESPN runs a remarkably realistic computer simulation that matches Rocky in his prime against the current undefeated heavyweight champ; Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon.  Dixon’s career is a massive joke as all his opponents have been picked for him, opponents that couldn’t go three rounds with Elmer Fudd.  The computer simulation has Rocky winning the match which doesn’t sit well with Dixon and his camp at all.  Rocky decides to get back into shape, get his boxing license back.  Maybe do a few small exhibition bouts in the neighborhood.  He just wants to get back in the ring and maybe by boxing he’ll connect with the man he used to be.  And that’s when Dixon comes with an offer: they should do the fight for real in Las Vegas.  Dixon’s people have convinced him that this is a way for him to change his image.  For Rocky, it’s a chance for one more last fight.  To prove to himself that he still has what it takes.  And as he says to Paulie; “Maybe if I let The Beast out one more time and let him burn himself out in the ring, I can let go.”  It’s a fight in which both men will confront what truly lies in their respective hearts.

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I said earlier that ROCKY BALBOA isn’t about boxing and I stand by that.  Certainly we have the scenes of Rocky training along with Bill Conti’s classic “Gonna Fly Now” playing majestically on the soundtrack and we have The Big Fight where Rocky and Dixon wallop the piss outta each other for 10 rounds.  But before we get to that we have a wonderfully written and acted drama about a man who was once rich and famous who is now alone and dealing with what his life has become.  He’s lonely, he’s sad, he’s getting older and he’s trying to find a way to deal with all that.  Yeah, they kinda fudge things a bit to explain how a 60 year old guy can legitimately climb into the ring to slug it out with a man half his age but to give Stallone his credit, he looks in damn good shape.  There’s a bit of flab, sure.  But there’s still plenty of muscle to go along with it.  And his acting is flawless.  He knows this character and has lived with him for 30 years.  This is some of the best acting that Stallone has done in years.  Even in the scenes where Rocky gets a little preachy (and there’s two of them: one where he’s fighting to get his license back and the other is where he gives his son a verbal kick in the ass) Stallone sells ‘em because they’re obviously from the heart.  I felt what he was saying and I felt they were coming from a place that Stallone himself has drawn upon all these years when things weren’t going so well for him in Hollywood.

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Burt Young doesn’t have as many hijinks as Paulie in this one.  The closest we get is when Paulie offhandedly remarks to Rocky that he’s making some back door deals for endorsements.  But he’s there in Rocky’s corner during The Big Fight when it counts.  And speaking of The Big Fight, real life boxer Antonio Tarver is a different sort of opponent for Rocky in this one.  He’s not a brutal killing machine like Clubber Lang or an unstoppable colossus like Ivan Drago.  In fact, Mason Dixon really isn’t a bad guy at all.  He really believes in the sport and is hungry to leave a legacy behind him such as the one Rocky has.  Geraldine Hughes basically stands in for Talia Shire in this one right down to scenes of her at ringside yelling, “Go, Rocky!” just like Adrian used to do.  But the relationship between them is sweet and remarkably mature.  Milo Ventimiglia doesn’t come off nearly as well as the other actors and he’s got some scenes you’ll be tempted to fast forward through.  I will say this: he and Sylvester Stallone do look as if they could actually be father and son.  Amazingly, their lips even twist in a similar fashion when they talk.

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And compared to the other ‘Rocky’ movies, The Big Fight in ROCKY BALBOA is fairly realistic.  Take the fights with Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago in previous movies. If boxers actually fought that way in real life, somebody would be carried out on a stretcher with a sheet over their face by the end.  And the sound of the punches landing isn’t as loud.  In the other ‘Rocky’ fights the punches sounded as if bones were exploding every time one landed.  Not here.  It’s a brutal fight, sure, but only slightly amped up.  Just enough to keep you in suspense as to how this thing is going to turn out.

So should you see ROCKY BALBOA?  I’d say yes.  It’s not a big summer blockbuster or high octane action extravaganza.  It’s a simple film that tells its story without any bells and whistles.  It draws you in with its careful character study and even though it’s so By the Numbers I think you’ll be entertained.  There’s absolutely nothing that’s in this movie you haven’t seen in other ‘Rocky’ movies but Sylvester Stallone manipulates the familiar elements as cleverly and as nimbly as a monkey juggles coconuts and he comes by the resolution at the end honestly.  It’s a far better way to end the series than ‘Rocky V’ and I really enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would.  I think you will too.

102 minutes

Rated PG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Expendables 2

Directed by Simon West

Produced by Avi Lerner

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and Richard Wenk

Story by Ken Kaufman, David Agosto and Richard Wenk

Based on characters created by David Callaham

If they continue on making them this entertaining and this much fun, they can make Expendables movies from now until the lid is slammed shut on me. They last time I had this much fun watching a movie was when I saw “The Avengers” and for a lot of the same reason: I felt like I was watching a lot of old friends that I’ve known for years together at last. And like “The Avengers” which put together a bunch of classic Marvel superheroes on screen at the same time for the first time, THE EXPENDABLES 2 finally gives up what the first “Expendables” only teased us with. At last The Holy Trinity of Action Heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis) standing shoulder to shoulder blasting the hell outta the bad guys.  It’s a stand-up and cheer moment for sure and it only gets better when none other than Chuck Norris joins the party.

But before that we get an absolutely outlandishly kick-ass pre-credits sequence where The Expendables invade Nepal to rescue a Chinese businessman. The old crew is back together: leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) knife specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li) demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture) weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren.) They also have a new member: Billy The Kid (Liam Hemsworth) because you can never have enough snipers.

After the Nepal rescue, Barney is approached by CIA spook Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) who still is not happy about the way the Vilena mission The Expendables undertook for him went down. He proposes a new mission to clean the slate. Barney will take on another new member, technical expert Maggie (Yu Nan) and fly to Albania to recover an item from a crashed airplane. The Expendables do so, only to have the item stolen from them by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his private terrorist army, The Sangs. Maggie reveals that the item is a computer that contains the blueprints for an abandoned Soviet Cold War era mine being used to store five tons of plutonium. Vilain and his right hand man Hector (Scott Adkins) have some really wicked plans for this plutonium.   It’s up to The Expendables to stop Vilain and if they have to blow up the country to save the world…well, that’s just what they’ll do.

And at times it does seem as if they’re going to blow up the country with all the explosions going off. Not to mention the horrendously high body count they rack up in their pursuit of Vilain. And that’s before The Expendables are joined by Mr. Church, the mysterious lone wolf commando Booker (Chuck Norris) and Barney’s rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who comes along for the ride. You can imagine the carnage that ensues with that kind of extra firepower added to the team.

And what a ride it is. Watching THE EXPENDABLES 2 for me is like stepping into a time machine and going back to the heyday of Action Movies: the 1980’s. I suspect that those of you, like me, who remember going to the theaters back then when it seemed like every week there was a new movie starring one of these guys playing will get more of a thrill just out of seeing these guys on screen together than anything else. Seeing them all together and obviously having so much fun is nothing less than a blast. And there’s a lot of inside jokes that I chuckled at but I suspect went right over the heads of most of the people in the theater I was watching the movie with.  My favorite one is when Barney casually mentions that Gunner has a degree in chemical engineering and threw away a promising career in that field for a girl. Google Dolph Lundgren and you’ll see why I found that funny. I also got a big grin out of Chuck Norris’ character being named Booker and being described as a lone wolf. Again, Google Chuck Norris and check out the synopses for “Lone Wolf McQuade” and “Good Guys Wear Black” and you’ll get the joke.

With the new members of the team on board as well as Willis and Schwarzenegger having bigger roles in this one that means that Toll Road and Hale Caesar don’t have as much to say but they get just as much of their share of the mayhem. And I like how Randy Couture quietly reminds us that his character is the team’s intellectual by having Toll Road simply reading a book in the background while plot exposition is going on in the foreground. And while Hale Caesar does not have a show-stopping moment in this one as he did in “The Expendables” (but let’s face it…taking down an attack helicopter by throwing a missile at it is a tough act to beat) Terry Crews makes sure that when Hale Caesar does have something to do, it’s memorable.

I also liked the action sequences in THE EXPENDABLES 2 better than the first one. The editing on the first movie was way too choppy in several fight scenes and during the final assault. That’s not the problem here. The action scenes are wonderfully and cleanly shot, full of noise and energy and gloriously blood-drenched with plenty of really impressive practical stunts.

That’s not to say I liked everything about the movie. I didn’t like how one of my favorite characters from the first movie has what amounts to a glorified cameo and simply drops out of the movie. And I’m not merely being descriptive. The character actually does drop.  Charisma Carpenter is totally unnecessary in this movie.  Even more so than in the first one and really, there’s no reason for her character to be in either one of them. The subplot dealing with the relationship between her character and Statham’s Lee Christmas is even more ridiculous considering that Lee spends more time talking to Barney about it than he does to his supposed girlfriend. I’m a big fan of Charisma Carpenter and hey, if the movie wants to give me gratuitous shots of her in a scandalously skimpy dress wiggling and jiggling in a bar, I’m not gonna complain. But she’s too good an actress to be wasted on a three-minute scene that any actress could have played.

So should you see THE EXPENDABLES 2? If you saw the first one, absolutely. Even if you didn’t see the first one, go see THE EXPENDABLES 2. The action is spectacular, especially the Nepal rescue and the final showdown in an airport where Couture, Crews, Lundgren, Norris, Schwarzenegger and Willis decimate the Sangs while Stallone and Van Damme have their mano-a-mano deathmatch. The jokes are as fast as plentiful as the bullets and it’s just such a pleasure to see a good old fashioned Action Movie made by and starring talent who know what they’re doing and do it supremely well. THE EXPENDABLES 2 gets my highest recommendation.

103 minutes

Rated R

The Expendables

2010

Lionsgate

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Produced by Avi Lerner

Written by Sylvester Stallone and David Callaham

There are those who said even before the movie came out, speaking just on having seen the trailers that THE EXPENDABLES looked to be nothing more than Sylvester Stallone attempting to relive his glory days when he was one of the major action stars back in the 80’s.  These good folks, having regaled me with their smug wisdom sit back and ask me what I thought of that.

My response is that he does have glory days to remember and try to relive which is more than most of us will be able to say when we check out of this existence.  And he’s blessed that he can relive those days in some excellent company indeed in this movie.  THE EXPENDABLES will probably be most appreciated by those like me who remember the seemingly endless truckloads of action movies produced by Golan-Globus and Cannon Films back in the day.  THE EXPENDABLES is a love letter to the testosterone fueled action genre of the 1980’s and testosterone is exactly what you’re going to get.  Ladies who go see this movie should immediately check themselves in the rest room after viewing to be sure they aren’t growing hair on their chests or have a few more dangly bits they have no business having.

The Expendables (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture) are an elite team of mercenaries headquartered in a tattoo parlor owned by Tool (Mickey Rourke) who has retired from field duty but apparently handles the team’s accounts.   He sets up a meeting with the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) who wants to hire The Expendables to take down General Garza (David Zayas) the brutal dictator of Vilena, a South American country that would be a paradise if it weren’t for Garza’s death squads running around doing what death squads do best: cause death.

Barney Ross (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Statham) go down to recon the layout and finds out it stinks worse than houseguests who just won’t leave.  Seems as if Mr. Church didn’t tell them the whole story, surprise, surprise.  Garza’s just the front man.  Vilena is really being run by rogue CIA agent James Munroe (Eric Roberts) and his two hulking huge henchmen (Steve Austin and Gary Daniels)  Barney and Lee escape from Vilena but they have to leave behind their contact Sandra (Gisele Itie)

Something about Sandra’s passion to deliver her country from the hell it’s becomes wakens something in Barney’s spirit and after a heart-to-heart with Tool, he’s determined to go back to Vilena and put things right.  Not for the money but for his own redemption.  Naturally his team can’t let him go it alone and that leads to The Expendables taking on an entire army in a massively apocalyptic battle that could easily qualify as Vietnam Part II.

I had a lot of fun watching THE EXPENDABLES.  Sometimes I’m awful easy to please and this movie had me right from the gunfight at the beginning.  A gunfight that itself had more of a body count than entire movies.  And who honestly can resist a movie that for the first time has the Holy Trinity of 80’s Action Heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone & Willis) on screen together?  Oh, sure there are a lot of lines between the three that are nothing but nudge nudge wink wink to the audience but hey, it’s that kind of movie and I liked the whole “Hey! We’re puttin’ the band back together!’ feel of the movie even though this is the first time some of these guys have worked together.

Stallone and Statham work together as smoothly as if they’ve been making movies together for the past ten years.  Randy Couture was an unexpected source of humor as his character, demolitions expert Toll Road is the intellectual of the group.  Dolph Lundgren gets to demonstrate his trademark scowl as the psychologically damaged sniper Gunnar.  Jet Li also shows a surprising flair for comedy as he provides the movie’s running joke of him continually demanding a raise.  His deadpan delivery is what sells the running joke and I cracked up every time he came up with a new reason why he needs more money.

Everybody makes the most of their screen time and every one of the characters, good or bad gets a moment to show off which I really liked as both the good guys and bad guys are all accredited badasses and that makes the final showdown one between groups of equal skills and strength.

That’s not to say that I don’t have my gripes with the movie.  The Jet Li/Dolph Lundgren fight could have really been a David vs. Goliath type of match-up but the way it’s choreographed I really couldn’t appreciate Jet Li’s moves.  The Expendables all have colorful, wonderful names but I didn’t even know what the names of Randy Couture’s and Terry Crews’ characters were until I read them in the end credits.

The editing during the hand-to-hand combats were too choppy for me at times and one thing I really hate in a fight scene is not being able to tell who’s beating the piss outta who.

But that’s just me.  The whole point of THE EXPENDABLES is as simple as a hammer to the back of an unprotected head: put a dozen tough guy actors together in one movie and give them 103 minutes to shoot, stab, blow stuff up, run over everything in sight, smash, slice and generally raise cinematic hell.  And have a lot of fun doing it.  I know I had a lot of fun watching them do it.

Rated R:  For the astounding level of violence in this movie.  It’s not as jaw-droppingly brutal as say, the last 30 minutes of “Rambo” but its close.

103 minutes.