Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Old Men and the Guns: EXPEND4BLES

Expend4bles is running into all the usual problems that can dog an aging franchise limping back into theaters—diminished energy, effort, and interest. The title of the latest is its creative peak. This action series started as an aging action star ensemble picture. Not a bad idea to put a black-ops squad of oldsters together, a Grumpy Old Men with guns and gore. Sylvester Stallone lead the charge and, across three movies, supporting roles went to the likes of Dolph Lundgren and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis and Wesley Snipes and Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jet Li and Harrison Ford and Chuck Norris and Mel Gibson and dozens more. The token young guy was Jason Statham, then only a decade removed from his first breakout in the Transporter movies. Now, though, he’s less than a decade removed from Stallone’s age in the first Expendables. When Stallone was Statham’s current age, 56, he was already gearing up to play Rocky and Rambo in their elder years (for the first time). Statham isn’t wearing his age like that. He’s still in fighting form as the youngest regular guy on the squad, able to jump and leap and stab and parry and even sell a perfectly aimed gunshot from a moving motorcycle as it spins midair. He’s still got it. No matter how many junk pictures he pops up in, I’m never tired of him. This movie, however, is tired. This belated fourth Expendables entry has no good young blood to offer to bolster Statham’s spot. And it doesn’t have the deep bench of older actors willing to return with them. So it’s still the same guys, but with fewer older stars willing to return to joke around in a subpar spectacle that relies almost entirely on the throwback appeal of said stars. It’s an aging varsity team with most of the roster unavailable and no one on the JV squad to call up. The result is so low-key and lethargic I spent even the action scenes wondering when it’d pick up the pace.

The director this time is Scott Waugh, an action expert whose films are sometimes solid. His video-game-adaptation Need for Speed is a fun car chase flick, though his Act of Valor is torpid US military propaganda, while his most recent prior film, the long delayed Hidden Strike, is torpid Chinese military propaganda. He’s not the sort of director who can overpower another’s priorities, in other words. Here he’s dutifully serving star demands and franchise image, but with much more of the former and less of the latter. Some of his frames here have a plasticine energy that tries hard to whip up a sense of fun. But that’s undone by characterizations that are one-note stereotypes. Even in a movie as broad and slight as a dumb throwback actioner, there’s just nothing to hold onto. It’s bad enough returning characters are simple and repetitive. Statham is a confident rule-bender always serving Stallone, the unquestioned macho leader adored by his team. It’s what he wants to project as a Movie Star in his twilight. I don’t think that’s changed much since the first. It comes with the territory. But such thinness is worse when the characters are new and quickly reduced to nothing. Newcomer 50 Cent spends the movie vaguely grumpy and gets no cool action. Megan Fox careens between nagging girlfriend and pin-up-poster glamor commando. Then these nobody characters enlivened only by the spark of celebrity in their casting are sent into a tediously simple storyline involving just a handful of locations, some pro forma deck-shuffling conspiracy blather, a layer of macho posturing and military jargon, and some CG blood splatter. It doesn’t even do right by its ensemble, leaving most of the fighting to Statham alone. (I mean, I would, too, but I’m also not going to try out for the Expendables team anytime soon.) I almost wish this movie was enjoyably bad instead of just dull.

No comments:

Post a Comment