Saturday, August 16, 2014

Movie Review: 'Expendables 3' walks (and detonates) familar ground

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I don't remember a single plot point from the original Expendables movie. I can't tell you who the antagonist was or what conflict our team of mercenaries fought to resolve. I remember that Mickey Rourke was in it for all of five minutes and that there was something about a woman who needed saving.

Expendables 2 is slightly clearer, mostly due to recency and that ridiculous moment when Jean Claude Van Damme's villain (whose character name, honest to God, was "Vilain") decides to kill Liam Hemsworth by kicking a knife into his chest.

Kicking. With his foot.

I realize that the dictionary definition bit is a cliche but in this case it bears noting that "expendable" refers to an object that is "designed to be used only once and then abandoned or destroyed" or "of little significance when compared to an overall purpose, and therefore able to be abandoned."

In that regard I say "Bravo" Mr. Stallone, for giving us a piece of cinema del arte that fully realizes the purpose of its creation. Not only is the revolving cast of hulking man meat able to expand, contract and evolve — due to scheduling demands and conflicting egos — but character, plot, and reason are as easily dispatched as the current film's set pieces, reduced to rubble in bombastic fashion and re-assembled for the next go-round.

For our third adventure with Sly Stallone and his band of merry men, we find a weary Barney Ross burdened by the memory of the men he's lost. He breaks one of the original Expendables out of some generic foreign imprisonment — Wesley Snipes, providing essentially 15 minutes of meta action-comedy about the actor's real-life legal woes — before skirting off to a CIA-funded job stopping an infamous international arms dealer.

But Surprise! Said arms dealer is none other than Stonebanks (a gleeful Mel Gibson) another Expendables OG believed deceased after finding himself on the wrong side of Ross' gun many years ago. His resurrection sends Ross into something of blind rage and the mission quickly goes south with the barely getting away and not entirely intact.

So Ross calls it quits on his team and tells them to go home and enjoy a peaceful life, allowing him to recruit a new group of young whipper-snappers whose almost certain deaths won't bother him since going after Stonebanks is a "one-way-trip."

Obviously that doesn't last (since absolutely no one prefers seeing Kellan Lutz pout to seeing Jason Stathum rip bad guys' spines out of their bodies) setting the stage for an old-meets-new teamup in a dilapidated high rise surrounded by a literal army gun-wielding goons.

The young guns are a bore but the additions of Snipes, Gibson and Antonio Banderas liven up the otherwise nondescript sweaty drudgery. Harrison Ford steps into the Bruce Willis rule as "Growling CIA man who inevitably joins the fight," but his contributions are mostly limited to a laughably bad computer-generated helicopter chase.

Expendables is beyond over-the-top, but it's reliance on practical effects gives it a low-key adrenaline charm. It's a shame, then, to see such poorly rendered CG wizardry applied in this third film.
The dialogue, what little there is, is also as stilted as ever, all the more reason for these actors to let the loud firearms they carry do their talking for them.

But I guess that's the point, and if action is on the menu then Expendables 3 delivers, allowing each character a moment to showcase their skills before scooping them all back together for a group hug at the bar as they rest up for the inevitable fourquel. It should also be noted that the PG-13 rating carried for the first time by the franchise doesn't slow things down. There may be less blood splatter and curse words, but number three goes fist to fist with its predecessors, at least as far as I can remember them.

Grade: C+

*'Expendables 3' opens nationwide on Thursday, July 14.

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