In true Rocky Balboa fashion, Sylvester Stallone keeps willing his career back into fighting shape. Flat on the mat a decade ago, Stallone has crawled back into the ring by tapping a vein of ’80s nostalgia with updates on his Rocky and Rambo characters.
Stallone often plays palookas, but he’s no dummy: His shrewd comeback continues with “The Expendables,” a violent opus that spreads the tough-guy mojo amongst a murderer’s row of survivors and newcomers.
The premise boasts an “A-Team” of mostly B-movie actors. Stallone’s the leader of an eye-gouging roster that includes Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren (the villain of “Rocky V”), Terry Crews (“Terminator Salvation”), and Ultimate Fighting dude Randy Couture.
Just reading that list should kill off some brain cells, but we’ve also got wrestler Steve Austin, Eric Roberts and a pipe-smoking Mickey Rourke, whose character, a talented tattoo artist, delivers assignments to Stallone’s band of mercenaries.
There are a couple of unbilled big-name cameos as well, but even though these have been Hollywood’s worst-kept secrets for many months, you can see the movie (or look online) to complete the 1980s reunion tour.
The plot involves Stallone’s wrecking crew visiting a Central American country and meddling in the local political situation, although the movie makes it clear that the CIA or somebody has already done plenty of meddling.
This is all borderline incoherent, and the one-note characterizations aren’t much better. But that’s all secondary, of course. What you’ve got are exploding presidential palaces (one of them, anyway), a machine-gun hatch in Stallone’s tricked-out seaplane, and a David vs. Goliath smackdown between Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren.
In other words, skull-crunching, blood-spattering violence. Stallone, who also directed, knows his audience, and he climaxes the movie with a relentless (if not always comprehensible) barrage of mayhem.
Lundgren and Li come off well, and Mickey Rourke gets a “moment”—the kind of monologue you might demand added to the script if you’re coming off an Oscar nomination. Jason Statham has his own subplot, which leads to the movie’s most absurd one-liner, concerning a knife and a basketball.
And Stallone? Well, he looks mysteriously young; although he’s in his mid-60s, his face looks about 35.
As for his performance, he mumbles, puffs his cigar and beats people up. As we said, he knows his audience.