August 13, 2010
Anyone who has ever questioned my admiration for and loyalty to Sylvester Stallone need only watch the first 10 minutes of THE EXPENDABLES to understand how and why I respect him and his work and have for over 30 years - and it’s beyond the fact that I’ve worked as crew on several of his films. His impassioned guerrilla style of filmmaking and his 360 degree intellect, keen sense of awareness and instinct, demand for perfection and an innate ability to turn on a dime in order to meet his own demands, those of the film and anticipate those of the audience, all aligning within one man, is a rarity and something for which our movie-going experiences are all the better. As a director, storyteller and screenwriter, like a fine wine, Stallone just keeps getting better with age and with the testosterone filled EXPENDABLES, he is just about as close to perfection as one can get. THE EXPENDABLES is nothing short of heart-stopping explosive exhilaration that takes your breath away. And it’s funny to boot.
Somali pirates have taken over the seas of late, making them unsafe for not only cargo shippers, but passenger ships as well. One such ship has been hijacked in the Gulf of Aden with hostages being held in exchange for ransom. Frustrated that no one is offering up the requested ransom for their hostages, out of frustration, the pirates appear to be making their own YouTube video of a decapitation or execution, obviously hoping the general masses will "take them seriously." But wait a minute? Someone has taken them seriously. Red laser beams suddenly appear targeting each of the pirates and a booming voice echoes across the ship demanding release of the hostages. We quickly see a number of men dressed in black, armed to the gills and looking none too pleased with the situation at hand - or being ignored. Before you can bat an eye, gunfire erupts, knives are thrown, body parts are dismembered, blood is gushing, spurting and flowing, and our men in black are the ones still standing without even having broken a sweat. Meet THE EXPENDABLES.
Headed by Barney Ross, the EXPENDABLES are a group of combat specialists turned mercenaries who live on the fringe of law, fighting evil and corruption around the world - for the right price, of course. Joining Ross in this brotherhood are Lee Christmas, former SAS blade specialist; Hale Cesar, long barrel weapons specialist; Yin Yang, hand-to-hand combat specialist specializing in martial arts; Toll Road, demolitions expert; Gunner Jensen, precision sniper; and Tool, former field guy now hidden behind his guise as a tattoo artist serving as a hiring contact for the boys.
Back from the Seven Seas and anxious for a new gig, Tool gets a call from an ominous source. Seems there’s an over-zealous and ruthless dictator, General Garza, in the South American country of Vilena who needs to be put in his place. And for some additional interest, it looks like he’s the puppet for a former CIA agent gone rogue, James Munroe.
Living by his motto, "If the money’s right, we don’t care where the job is", Ross meets up with a guy named Church to get the skinny. What he doesn’t expect his old nemesis to also be in the bidding for the job. But as luck (and filmmaking) would have it, the job goes to the EXPENDABLES.
Doing advance recon, Ross and Christmas head off to Vilena, only to find more than they bargained for with a situation guaranteed to be the most explosive ever encountered. With Garza at his own impasse, questioning right and wrong and puppet master Munroe, and a rebellious daughter who wants to take down her own father and restore Vilena to the people, do the boys walk away from the emotional quagmire of Family Feud or search their consciences to do what is right. Thanks to Tool, Ross knows what he must do but what will the brotherhood do?
Needless to say, there’s a whole lot of shakin’ - napalm, explosions, ammo, grenades, guns, C4, merc switches, knife throwing, blood letting and flying body parts - goin’ on.
Let’s just say it now - the casting is dream come true and total perfection. Every guy is just perfect in his performance and perfectly suited to their assigned role.
Who else but Sylvester Stallone could play Barney Ross, leader and mastermind of this seemingly rag-tag group of "has been" warriors now servicing the world as hardened mercenaries - for a price, of course. In Ross, Stallone incorporates the traits of John Rambo and the heart and innocence of Rocky Balboa, the latter of which then dovetails into sweet comedic moments that often resonate with nostalgia. Stallone knows his strengths and his weaknesses and here as Ross, he plays to both. As usual, he crafted a wonderful character for himself.
Jason Statham is an early "Christmas" gift for us all. He has never been hotter. And we have never seen him with anything comedic. On top of his superior dramatic and action-adventure skills, as Christmas he proves to be quite funny with impeccable comedic timing.
Mickey Rourke just blew me out of the water. The emotion that he elicits as Tool when giving the "conscience" speech to Barney - that came straight from the heart - salvation, redemption. Very touching and clearing, something personally tailored by Stallone to Rourke’s own career and life. Eric Roberts is slick evil. As Munroe, he is delicious to watch. With every word, every movement, you see how much he relishes the part, the character. He IS the character. And who better than a bodyguard for Munroe than Stone Cold Steve Austin as , who else, Paine.
Jet Li never ceases to amaze me. In addition to his exceptional physical skills, he too exhibits great deadpan comedic timing with perfectly poised dialogue. Likewise for Randy Couture and the always incredible Terry Crewes, who will leave you agog. One not to be overlooked by any stretch of the imagination is Stallone’s old Rocky nemesis, Dolph Lundgren who turns in a diverse winning performance as Gunner Jensen.
But what’s this?? A little 5 minute scene with none other than Sly, Bruce Willis and Arnold "The Governator" Schwarzenegger? This one scene is reason enough to see this film. It just doesn’t get any better than this. The six months it took to find time for Schwarzenegger and Willis to come on board was well worth it. The on screen energy with these three is electrifying.
Written and directed by Stallone, the action and humor is non-stop on both counts and only intensifies as the film goes on. In what has become one of his trademarks, his storylines either imitate life with commentary on socio-political and human situations or they have the infallible accuracy of a prescient soothsayer. THE EXPENDABLES is no different. Key to the fun of the film is the way that Sly crafts dialogue into self-deprecating humor as to each particular character and actor, demonstrating his great attention to detail. On Willis' character of Church asking "What's his problem?" when referring to Schwarzenegger, Ross’ response of "Oh him? He wants to be president" is just to die for. Simply hysterical. And beyond the dialogue itself is the delivery. Likewise, there are similar classic comments for each character that makes reference to prior roles or their own personas. Some perfect examples involve Ross’ comment to Christmas reading poetry. In perfect Rocky Balboa matter of fact innocence, we hear this mild mannered echo from the past of "I like poetry" - even delivered identically by Stallone to that as Rocky. Lundgren has more than his fair share of reference back to his character as Ivan Drago in "Rocky IV." Same for Li and some of his patented performances while Couture’s wrestling background and cauliflower ear injuries are fodder for a character revealing monologue. But where Stallone never falters is giving substance and emotion to each of his characters and the story itself. There are no "empty" talking heads on screen just for show.
Turning to directing, talk about camera shots and angles. Having worked with Sly on 3 films and to see what he has done over the years to reach this pinnacle is mind blowing. He is a true talent. He has a great eye for framing and emotion but also for technical specificity. Using at minimum 5 cameras plus some hand helds, hand Just check out the camera work when he and Li are watching video monitors. Using an off- angle camera, he captures the video monitors perfectly in their eyes, doubling the effect and intensity of the moment and situation. Likewise, when a river of fire is set in the General’s presidential compound, he zooms in with a close up of the flames reflected in his eyes. Stunning, stunning work. THAT is the work of a true director. A true visionary.
Need I even say anything about the action? It’s non-stop to the point that, as a viewer, I didn't even want to breath. A real rock ‘em, sock ‘em throwback to the 80's action heroes we all know and love (and who are all here on screen but for maybe one), with an untold body and ammo count, and thanks to the rapid fire clipped editing of Stallone veteran, Paul Harb, and Ken Blackwell, I was so caught up in the action, I literally couldn’t breath this was so exhilarating. Credit for the action and stunts goes not only to Stallone and the cast who did the bulk of their own stunts, but also to stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski and his team of specialists. In true Stallone fashion, Stallone passed on CGI and pushed the envelope on many occasions. Look for Statham to be hanging out in the nose of a plane soaring 100 feet above the ocean surrounded by smoke and flames. Stallone himself dove from a dock to the door of an ascending aircraft and hung on with water and gale force winds throwing him horizontally in the air and against the plane. And yes, as we all know now, Stallone himself broke his neck in a climactic fight scene with Steve Austin - and then continued to shoot the scene, risking paralysis. You will know the scene the minute it hits the screen. Amazing. There is no one who does what Stallone does for s film, his craft and authenticity. The man has guts and integrity - and okay, maybe he’s also a bit "mental irregular."
There is nothing expendable about THE EXPENDABLES. The boys are back in town! THE EXPENDABLES is EXPLOSIVE and let’s face it, ****ing awesome!
Barney Ross - Sylvester Stallone
Lee Christmas - Jason Statham
Yin Yang - Jet Li
Hale Cesar - Terry Crews
Toll Road - Randy Couture
Gunner Jensen - Dolph Lundgren
Tool - Mickey Rourke
James Munroe - Eric Roberts
Paine - Steve Austin
Directed by Sylvester Stallone. Written by Stallone and David Callaham.