The Expendables 3


Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes decide to settle who has the bigger blade.

Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes decide to settle who has the bigger blade.

(2014) Action (Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Kellan Lutz, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Antonio Banderas, Dolph Lundgren, Wesley Snipes, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Ronda Rousey, Kelsey Grammer, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Robert Davi, Ivan Kostadinov, Slavi Slavov, Natalie Burn, Sarai Givaty. Directed by Patrick Hughes

Back in 2010, action fans eagerly awaited the debut of The Expendables which united action heroes from days gone by Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Lundgren, Bruce Willis and of more recent vintage Li and Statham. The novelty factor alone made the movie a big hit but a single soliloquy by Mickey Rourke made the movie more memorable than the average action film.

Then came The Expendables 2 which added Jean-Claude van Damme and Chuck Norris (as well as more recent action star Liam Hemsworth) which was still entertaining in its own way but the novelty was beginning to wear off. Would the pattern continue?

Yeah, it does. While this is the most star-studded of the series, it is also the least fulfilling. I use that term advisedly – The Expendables 3 has a massive dose of testosterone that will grow hair on the chest of a Disney princess, and is surprisingly entertaining but not necessarily in a good way. You can sit back and watch this and take it for what it is, but if what it is doesn’t thrill you so much, you’re in for a long evening.

The team – leader Barney Ross (Stallone), right hand man Lee Christmas (Statham), surly Gunnar Jensen (Lundgren), just as surly Toll Road (Couture) and abs-tastic Hale Caesar (Crews) board a prison train carrying a single prisoner – former Expendable Dr. Death (Snipes). As usual, lots of people get shot and stuff blows up but Team Ex wins out in the end.

But it turns out that the prison break was kind of a side trip on the way to something else. They’ve to head out and intercept a shipment of bombs from an arms dealer, who turns out to be Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson) who just happened to co-found the Expendables before turning rogue and going out on his own. That job turns out to be something of a cluster frump and gets one of the team shot and in critical condition. Shaken up, Barney decides to retire the team and find a new one.

He needs one because their CIA contact Drummer (Ford) wants Stonebanks picked up alive and taken to the Hague to answer for his crimes. That’s easier said than done however and while Barney’s new team – including tech wizard Thorn (Powell), chatterbox Spanish killing machine Galgo (Banderas), team muscle Mars (Ortiz), beautiful but deadly Luna (Rousey) and anti-authoritarian potential team leader Smilee (Lutz) has more of a modern edge to them, they don’t do any better than the first team and things go sideways in a hurry. It will take the old team to rescue the new team and a final mano a mano brawl between Stonebanks and Barney to settle this once and for all.

Da Queen, being a pragmatic sort (and a bit of a masochist) decided to count up the ludicrous scenes in the movie when something that simply was too much of a stretch of the imagination to ignore; the end figure was in double digits. I can take a certain suspension of disbelief; after all, I used to love those ’80s action epics as much as the next guy. However, there comes a point where you’re inner brain starts to say “come on, you can’t be serious” to your testicles (or the female approximation of same) and the action fix begins to clash with your inner need for some sort of logic. How much you like the movie will depend on how bad you need an action fix.

Stallone, clean-shaven for the first time in the trilogy, looks every bit an AARP member at this point. There are several close-ups on his trademark sneer and as his righteous anger leeks out from his upper lip and into his eyeballs, you can tell he’s going to go all Rambo on somebody’s ass. Statham, not so nearly long in the tooth, merely looks uncomfortable most of the way through – perhaps that’s because he was involved in a near-fatal truck crash when the brakes on the truck he was driving in the movie failed and he was forced to abandon truck before it crashed into the sea.

I will say that the much-maligned Gibson fares the best here, channeling his Martin Riggs from back in the day and if Riggs were a villain in the Lethal Weapon series this is how he’d have turned out. He’s actually pretty fun to watch although I imagine that those who still haven’t gotten over his anti-Semitic drunken rant to the cops will be less sanguine about his performance. Snipes, recently released from prison, reminds us why he was such a great action star in the first place. I thought at one time he had the potential to be as big as Will Smith, although a series of bad roles and poor life choices derailed that. It still might happen though – he could use his performance here as an audition tape for any action movie in the offing and get serious consideration. He also has the best line in the movie; when asked by Toll Road what he was in prison for. I won’t tell you what he responds because the surprise is half the fun.

There is some CGI here and they must have done it on somebody’s Commodore VIC-20 because it is absolutely miserable, some of the worst I’ve ever seen. For example, for the scene near the movie’s end where he is hanging from a winch cable on a helicopter as the chopper pulls away from the camera, I’d much rather have stopped the scene with him dangling underneath it asking his snarky teammates to winch him up now right at that point instead of seeing a clearly CGI silhouette of the copter with the distant semi-humanoid figure and cable being sucked into the helicopter like a strand of spaghetti. I don’t like my action reality messed with.

This is a series whose novelty has run its course and needs to survive simply on the success of its action sequences and the quirkiness of its characters. For one thing, too many characters get virtually no screen time (Li shows up near the end and gets three or four lines and no fighting sequences which is a complete waste of his talents) and while the cast members are pretty able individually, the whole isn’t equal to the sum of its parts.

REASONS TO GO: Definite testosterone overload.

REASONS TO STAY: Super predictable and super brainless. Some of the worst CGI ever. Novelty has worn off.

FAMILY VALUES:  Oh yes, all sorts of violence with guns, blades, you name it – mayhem deluxe. There’s also a fair amount of language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first Expendables film not to be rated R.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/21/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews. Metacritic: 35/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Commando

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Code Name: The Cleaner

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The Expendables 2


The Expendables

Chuck Norris jut made that car burst into flames with the power of his steely-eyed glare.

(2012) Action (Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Nan Yu, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude van Damme, Chuck Norris, Scott Adkins, Charisma Carpenter, Amanda Ooms, Nikolette Noel. Directed by Simon West

 

Back in the 70s and 80s, action movies were at their pinnacle. Movies like The Terminator, Rambo, Die Hard, Timecop and Missing in Action were box office bonanzas. As time went on and the men who played those heroes aged, the popularity of these sorts of movies began to wane. Although new heroes like Jet Li and Jason Statham took those action spots, action heroes were as likely to star in family movies geared towards kids as they were in old fashioned shoot ’em ups.

In 2010, Sylvester Stallone wrote and directed The Expendables, an ensemble action movie uniting some of the biggest action heroes of the last 30 years, including Stallone, Statham, Willis, Schwarzenegger, Li, Mickey Rourke and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Just getting those names onto the big screen together was a feat in and of itself and it ignited the imaginations of fanboys all over the world. Schwarzenegger was still Governor of California at the time and hadn’t been in a movie for six years.

The movie was a big hit and of course plans for a sequel rolled around. Rourke dropped out, van Damme and Norris signed up (as did Liam Hemsworth) and Stallone relinquished the director’s chair to veteran action director West, who has Con-Air to his credit among others – the Stallion wanted to concentrate on writing – and here we go again.

This time, the Expendables – led by Barney Ross (Stallone) and his right hand man Lee Christmas (Statham)  are on a mission to rescue a Chinese billionaire and gets an extra added bonus attraction. Shortly thereafter, Ross has a meeting with Church (Willis) to whom Ross owes a favor – and Church aims to collect. He wants Barney’s team to head to Bulgaria to find a downed plane which was carrying a safe. The contents of the safe are something Church wants very much. He sends computer expert Maggie (Yu) along to help open the safe.

But things go south. They are intercepted by Vilain (van Damme) who also wants the contents of the safe. One of the Expendables doesn’t make it out of the encounter alive. Barney and the boys don’t take too kindly to it. They want that which is stolen from them but also they want payback. And we all know what payback is.

One of the problems with movies like this is that so many characters is that many of them get short shrift in screen time. That was also the complaint with the first movie in which Willis and Schwarzenegger only appeared in one scene. They have considerably more time onscreen this time out and get to do what we all wanted them to do in the first movie – shoot stuff up. But what the filmmakers giveth the filmmakers taketh away – Jet Li literally parachutes out of the movie after a single scene.

And there’s a whole lot of that. And if that’s all that you’re after, you’ve found nirvana here. The story is pretty….well, non-descript. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before and no way you’re not going to figure out what’s going to happen next at every turn. And let’s face it – none of these guys are known for being amazing actors. But that’s not why you’d go and see a movie like this.

But still in all, the last movie had Mickey Rourke to elevate it. He gave a soliloquy during the first movie that still gives me the shivers it’s so good. There’s nothing like that here. I will admit that watching Chuck Norris save the day (as he does twice) put a huge smile on my face. There’s even a Chuck Norris fact for your cinematic enjoyment – it’s the one about the cobra, for those who are up on such things.

I have to admit that the thrill of seeing these guys together was kind of lost the second time out. It was nice and all but this is essentially a generic by-the-numbers action movie with a high-priced cast. It’s a novelty, but not much more. Sadly, I’m less eager to see The Expendables 3 than I was to see The Expendables 2.

REASONS TO GO: Seeing these old war horses in action again is a hoot.

REASONS TO STAY: Overreliance on catchphrase and cliché. A bit too predictable.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence and foul language, a little bit of sensuality too (but not much).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Gunnar Jensen has a degree in chemical engineering. So does the actor who plays him, Dolph Lundgren.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/25/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 66% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100. The reviews are mixed but trending towards the positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Losers

CATCHPHRASE LOVERS: Iconic catchphrases from action movies, like “I’ll be back” and “Yippie Ki Yay” are all uttered although generally not by the actors who first said them.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Cinema Paradiso

Big Stan


Big Stan

The authorities catch up to Rob Schneider after the last Deuce Bigalow movie.

(2007) Comedy (Crystal Sky) Rob Schneider, David Carradine, Jennifer Morrison, Scott Wilson, Richard Kind, Sally Kirkland, M. Emmett Walsh, Henry Gibson, Jackson Rathbone, Kevin Gage, Bob Sapp, Brandon Jackson, Dan Haggerty, Richard Riehle, Marcia Wallace, Randy Couture. Directed by Rob Schneider

 

Fear can be an awfully effective motivator. When something makes us quake in our boots, it’s amazing the things we can do to protect ourselves or at the very least, keep our worst fears from coming true.

Big Stan (Schneider) is a real estate salesman whose real job is to swindle the elderly out of their hard earned dollars to buy timeshares in undesirable neighborhoods and make a killing by convincing them to pay luxury accommodation prices. He gets caught eventually and convicted although his conniving lawyer (Walsh) convinces the judge (Riehle) to give Stan six months to settle up his affairs before heading off to jail.

Stan is not the biggest rooster in the henhouse, although he has a gorgeous wife (Morrison) whom he’s crazy about. However, what he’s even crazier about is the thought that he’s going to be raped repeatedly in prison; he’s paranoid about it like Nixon. He finds himself a martial arts teacher who calls himself The Master (Carradine) who agrees to teach him how to defend himself. His methods are, to say the least, unusual. Even so, Stan manages to become an adept martial artist, so much so that the Master labels him his number two disciple.

Eventually Stan is sent to prison where he encounters some of the meanest, roughest prisoners you’ll ever meet – and Stan kicks all of their asses. He becomes the prison’s number one badass and the warden (Wilson), knowing about Stan’s real estate expertise, seeks out his help in a scheme to raze the prison and turn the site into luxury condos. Stan and the prisoners get together to expose the warden’s nefarious plan but can they stand together? Or will Stan, targeted by the Master’s number one student, fall alone?

Schneider’s film career has been checkered to say the least. His Deuce Bigalow films have made Jim Carrey’s Ace Ventura films look positively highbrow by comparison. Schneider himself however has always been a likable presence even in the movies with the least amount of appeal. I was fortunate enough to interview him years ago (just after he left SNL) and found him to be a really nice guy and one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever done. I know there are a lot of people who don’t like his persona, but I’m not one of them.

This is a bit of a departure for Schneider in that there are martial arts sequences and action, something he hasn’t done in most of his studio films except for comic effect. The action sequences here – considering that Schneider hasn’t directed such things before and he has to direct himself in them – are surprisingly well done, and Schneider (who does his own stunt work) is a very competent martial artist. I was mildly surprised to say the least.

Now the movie is almost like two movies – the first part when the Master trains Stan is one movie with one tone and the second part set in the prison another movie with a different tone. I’m not sure which movie I liked better – the first part had the most funny portions of the film (and there aren’t many) but I liked the action portions in the second, so I’d give it to the second by a hair if pressed. The tonal shift however is a bit disconcerting to the casual viewer.

I wish the script had been funnier but there is a sweetness factor that gives it some points. There is far too much reliance on prison rape and the fear of it as a comedy point and it gets driven home a little too much. We get it. Prison rape is bad. Stan doesn’t want to get raped in prison. His butt is sacred. No need to nag.

The movie never got a theatrical release despite being on the schedule for five different dates. The distributors ultimately thought the movie would be unprofitable in any sort of limited release (although it did surprisingly well overseas) and wound up being sold to another distributor who immediately put it on direct-to-video. I’m not going to lie and tell you that this is the second coming of Gone With the Wind but it’s better than a lot of releases that make it onto the schedule. You could do a lot worse than renting this.

WHY RENT THIS: Despite everything Schneider is kind of lovable despite himself. He acquits himself nicely doing his own martial arts sequences. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not particularly funny and there’s a little too much emphasis on prison rape.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the humor is crude and sexual in places. The language is pretty rough throughout.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The prison scenes were shot in a closed women’s prison in Stockton. During filming there Schneider collapsed from heat exhaustion and food poisoning  when temperatures soared during the summer shoot.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $8.7M on an unreported production budget; it’s likely that the movie broke even at least or made a modest profit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Longest Yard

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: Chop Shop

The Expendables


The Expendables

Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone and Randy Couture are all puzzled by the awful smell coming from the ceiling.

(Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Giselle Itie, Mickey Rourke, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Charisma Carpenter, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Zayas, Gary Daniels. Directed by Sylvester Stallone

When we reach a certain age, we have a tendency to say things along the lines as “they don’t make them like that anymore” more and more often. In some cases, it’s just our memories of things from the past that color our perceptions. Once in awhile, we’re actually right – they don’t make them like that anymore.

Case in point, The Expendables. This is the kind of action movies that filled theaters with cheering, chest-pounding men and the women who put up with them. It’s the kind of movie that makes you want to cook some meat on an open flame, use power tools to make things that needed to be fixed even more broken, and drink several beers while watching football. You know, man things.

There’s a plot here but really, do you care? You’ve got Stallone leading a bunch of mercenaries into a fictional South American country to rescue a brave woman (Itie) with his besties at his side – mostly Statham and Li but also including Couture and Crews – against some rogue CIA agents (Roberts and Austin).  We’ve seen it more than once already this summer alone.

One of the big draws is a single scene in which Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger gather together in a church to essentially set up the story. It’s early on in the movie, last only a few minutes and then Willis and Schwarzenegger disappear forever from the movie. Still, you get an insane kick out of seeing these three action icons of the 80s and 90s together for the first time, with Stallone even getting in a jab at Schwarzenegger’s political aspirations.

Then there’s Mickey Rourke. Having seen his career resurrected in The Wrestler and further enhanced by Iron Man 2, he plays a semi-retired Expendable who runs a tattoo parlor slash garage where his old merc buddies get together to reminisce. He has a scene that he talks about why he got out of the game and gives at least a little insight into the toll of war on old warriors. Stallone, to his credit, centers the camera on a tight close-up on Rourke’s face except for a brief reaction shot, but essentially the entire speech is shot that way. It’s a stunning moment, one you wouldn’t expect to find in an action film like this and it serves to elevate the movie all by its lonesome.

Mainly though, this is about blowing things up, stabbing people every which way, kicking, punching and shooting people with guns, rocket launchers and whatever else is handy. The action is way over-the-top, loud and aggressive – in short, the way it used to be. You don’t have time to really think about how hurling an artillery shell at a helicopter with your bare hands isn’t likely to do much damage, let alone blow it up but Crews does just that and you pound your chest and grunt like a good monkey when he does.

Some of the fight scenes, particularly during the last battle, were difficult to follow. Stallone chose to use a more modern handheld camera approach, not realizing perhaps that the style was something of a novelty to begin with; combined with quick cuts, you get the sensation that the entire battle scene is hurtling by your head without really sticking onscreen. At times, you can’t tell who’s battling who, and it’s a shame because you wind up missing some of Jet Li’s martial arts moves which are unbelievable to begin with.

Still, this is a movie that will quell that action Jones you may have been craving for years now. I could actually feel my testicles swelling up while the movie was going on. Not an unpleasant sensation, let me tell you.

REASONS TO GO: A throwback action movie that gives you more bang for your buck than any action film this past summer.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the fight scenes (particularly in the climactic battle) were filmed with handheld cameras and were insanely difficult to follow, so quickly were they cut.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of action, lots of violence, lots of things go boom and lots of hand-to-hand mayhem. A few swear words too; probably older teens will be fine with this, but the very young should stay away.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scene with Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis was filmed on October 24, 2009 and took six hours to film. Willis was in the midst of filming Cop Out and was given a pass by director Kevin Smith to appear in The Expendables; Schwarzenegger declined to accept any pay for his role, doing it as a favor to his longtime friend Stallone. It was Schwarzenegger’s first movie appearance in six years, since Around the World In 80 Days.

HOME OR THEATER: Big explosions should be seen on a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Taking Woodstock