Saturday, August 16, 2014

Exhaustible: THE EXPENDABLES 3

A reunion of box office has-beens, the first two Expendables movies worked on some dumb level through nothing more than the novelty of seeing Sylvester Stallone and fellow veteran action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme stomping through scenarios reminiscent of their greatest hits. But by the time we arrive at The Expendables 3, the novelty has worn off. There should be something poignant about the idea of an aging team of mercenaries confronting their mortality and finding new ways to push old bodies through a young-man’s sport. Instead, it’s a mechanical and joyless contraption that grinds out what they think we want to see them doing. So here’s Stallone, squinting through displays of physicality no 68-year-old could ever pull off. To his credit, he sometimes does pull it off. But by the time he’s outrunning a collapsing building and leaping towards a waiting helicopter, it’s clear this is mere wish fulfillment.

The story in this outing is stupidly simple. After a failed mission, Stallone retires his team of old buddies (Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews). He contacts a black market talent scout (Kelsey Grammer) to find a younger team to help set things right for his C.I.A. contact (Harrison Ford). The mission fails again. This time, the villain (Mel Gibson) captures the muscled twentysomethings (Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell). Now it’s up to the old team to save the new team. Built around three action sequences – a train rescue that segues into a firefight with Somali pirates, an infiltration of a skyscraper, and a siege of an abandoned warehouse or something – the script, by Stallone and Olympus Has Fallen writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, continually maneuvers the cast into place, half-heartedly giving them lame wisecracks and rote motivations until the shooting can start again.

It’s overburdened with too many characters. I didn’t even mention Antonio Banderas as an endearingly talkative out-of-work mercenary desperate to get back in the fight and a brief appearance of Jet Li, who gets a surprisingly tender moment with Schwarzenegger, or as tender a moment as a meat-grinder macho movie can supply. With all these people standing around, the action scenes don’t have time for complicated choreography or suspenseful crosscutting. You can almost see contract negotiations and scheduling difficulties on screen with sequences seemingly slapped together with whatever shots were most convenient to everyone’s calendars. I doubt the whole Expendables team ever shared a single frame together. A character is left dangling in an elevator shaft for nearly the entire final melee. Every time we cut back to him straining for the next ledge, I thought, “Oh, yeah. He’s here, too.”

The hectic but flatlining action is mind-numbingly violent, but bloodless since it’s PG-13 this time. Thousands, maybe millions, of rounds of ammunition are expended in the course of this movie, leaving hundreds of unidentified, usually ethnic-coded, figures blown apart. It’s tiresome, repetitive, a little offensive, and cartoonish in its lack of weight or resonance. “How hard is it to kill 10 men?” Gibson yells at his flunkies after an entire third-world army fails to even injure an Expendable. It just goes on and on, gunfire, helicopters, and punches shot in a flat, unremarkable chaotic style. There’s no variety here. They couldn’t even throw in a car chase or a plane crash to mix things up a bit?

I like some of the personalities involved. The new recruits don’t make much of an impression, aside from Ronda Rousey, the first female Expendable. She’s also the only woman to appear in more than one shot in this testosterone overdose. It’s the caramelized veterans who are of some interest, bringing to their roles their histories as screen presences and public figures. When Ford says to Stallone, “good to finally meet you,” there’s a microscopic twinge of action movies past as Indiana Jones shakes Rambo’s hand. It’s the little things, like Snipes (Stallone’s Demolition Man foe) having his character joke he’s been in prison for “tax evasion.” Ha. Ha. Worse is Gibson’s winking at his checkered recent history, snapping that the heroes would be scared if they saw him angry. That’s a tad too close for comfort. At least the script gives him one good goofy villainous threat: “I’ll cut your meat shirt open and show you your heart!” That’s the kind of line B-movies are made of!

Alas, this movie’s too flavorless for those pleasures to save. It’s a largely anonymous work coasting off the personalities on screen while director Patrick Hughes does what he can with the material he’s been given. Not much can be done. This series has exhausted what little inspiration it once had, having never quite lived up to its fullest potential. There’s something almost sweet about a movie full of AARP action figures passing the torch to Jason Statham and now on to even younger potential action stars. But it’s buried under the grinding routine of so much mindless carnage and nothing story. I just didn’t care. It thinks it’s funny, exciting, and maybe even a little melancholy, what with it’s closing Neil Young sing-a-long and all. But it’s mostly sad and tired.

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