Movie Review: The Expendables

August 20, 2010
Aaman Lamba

Imagine if Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Michael Bay had never made action films, and if the Hong Kong action cinema had not influenced Hollywood. The action films of the 1980s with their flash bang shock-and-awe effects and little underlying structure have long been replaced by cerebral thrillers and action fantasies. The time of the larger-than-life all-American action hero is long past.

Who else but the iconic Slyvester Stallone would continue to make movies like nothing had changed? And yet, much has changed, even in the genre he recreates almost effortlessly. THere is no more the sense of American exceptionalism and triumphalism that was the hallmark, and some might say, blight of the 1980s American action blockbuster. The lone hero is not the centerpiece of The Expendables, featuring an ensemble cast of mercenaries, played by the classic action heroes of times past, almost everyone except Kurt Russell and the legendary Chuck Norris.

The shoot-'em-up has all the failings of the heavy-handed genre and yet it is a fun film, with acerbic dialogue, intense action sequences and some real mean bad-asses. THe backstory gives the film some depth, with the Expendables off to save a tinpot South American country from a dictator who is at the bidding of an ex-CIA man, growing cocaine in its fields and peddling arms, a mission apparently funded by the CIA with whom the bad guy, Eric Roberts, opening against his sister's Eat, Pray, Love, has had some sort of falling out, never quite explained. The Expandables are a globalized bunch of tough guys, featuring Stallone, Jason Stratham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, and in a weakly funny cameo, Bruce Willis and the Terminator himself, who's too busy "wanting to be President" to sign up for this mega-mission.

These escapees from the Sergio Leone Home for the Violently Abled have just wrapped up a mission foiling some Somali pirates, before taking on the cleansing mission in South America. The initial recon job is botched, and Stallone meets Sandra, who we discover is the evil general's daughter. The inevitable chivalrous urges lead the Expendables back to finish the job, and all the left over whizz-bangs go up, with the typical finale, and no Expendable expended, as it were.

Films like this play an important role in recessionary times. Escapism has long been seen as appropriate fare, with the hope that the 99ers will satiate their anger and frustration through the flickers on the silver screen. This particular reel is played out, however, and the wrap-up with the geriatric hopefuls almost pitching a sequel is nauseating, but par for the course.

Aaman Lamba is the Publisher of, a Blogcritics network site. He also blogs, more infrequently nowadays, at Audit Trails Of Self
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