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If Ed Hardy Were a Movie, It Would Be The Expendables

Hillel Aron |
August 14, 2010 | 3:16 p.m. PDT

Senior Editor

 Karen Ballard/Lionsgate)
Karen Ballard/Lionsgate)
"The Expendables"

(USA, 2010, 103 mins)

There’s a scene about halfway through "The Expendables" where Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham, having just escaped from a banana republic’s army (and by banana I mean cocaine) in a prop plane, look at each other and turn the plane around, not to rescue the pretty girl who refused to leave (that’ll have to wait for Act 3), but to strafe the shore, taking out 20 soldiers in a hail of bullets. Only then do they fly away, the pier engulfed by slow motion flames.

It’s a synecdoche for the entire movie, which isn’t about to let such dramatic devices as causality interfere with shit blowing up good. There is something approximating a plot, and it is, if not exactly entertaining, entertaining-adjacent.

The said plot concerns a small band of mercenaries who may or may not be in a motorcycle gang and may or may not be going through an existential crisis after Dolph Lundgren almost kills Jet Li, the only member of the team not ‘roided up to within an inch of his life, and therefore subjected to short person jokes for the duration of the film.

Then Bruce Willis hires the team to take down the dictator and his evil CIA puppet master, played adequately by Eric Roberts. (it’s here where Governor Schwarzenegger shows up, in one of the more pointless cameos in cinematic history, simply to trade a few barbs with Stallone and turn down the job.) The moral crisis is obvious. Do they take down the dictator because it’s the right thing to do? Or do they do it just for the money? These are the times that try men’s souls. 

Stylistically, "The Expendables" owes a large debt to the Ed Hardy brand. Tattoos and tattoo-like paintings are everywhere, along with motorcycles, skulls, and receding hairlines. If all that sounds irritating, it is, but keep in mind it’s broken up by dialogue that sounds like it was made up five minutes before the cameras started rolling. 

Of course, all that's just filler for the action scenes, which do pretty much exactly what you think they’re going to. Many an object is seen to explode, including a not insignificant number of human bodies. Which is all fine and good, except that Stallone, the, ahem, director, treats the wide shot with the kind of indifference one usually reserves for pea soup or Flag Day. It doesn’t help that Stallone, Lundgren, Steve Austin (WWE), Randy Couture (MMA), and Terry Crews (NFL) all have the same beefy silhouettes. Trying to figure out what's going on in an action scene can feel like trying to read by candlelight on a roller coaster.

By the by, what exactly has happened Sylvester Stallone’s face? The once-handsome, sleepy-eyed star has somehow morphed into a terrifying monster,  thanks no doubt to plastic surgery, HGH, and… something else- perhaps tanning beds? The scenes with him and Mickey Rourke are like a peak inside a stroke-victim ward. If not for Statham’s generic good looks, you’d risk forgetting what human features look like altogether.

And while "The Expendables", with its throwback cast and high body count, gives a head fake toward the great action films of the 1980s (and perhaps "The Dirty Dozen"), but is in fact a paean to the modern-day machismo of wrestling, mixed martial arts and steroids. Call it a response to the nerd-superheroes of Spiderman and Jason Bourne. Only the obsession over body-building and muscle mass has turned into another kind of nerd-dom, another annoying clique that most of us don't want anything to do with. The best '80s action heroes were alienated underachievers- people most moviegoers could relate to. Now all we're left with are nerds and body builders. Where did all the normal people go?
To reach Senior Editor Hillel Aron, click here.
Follow Hillel Aron on Twitter @HillelAron.



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