As inexplicable as Twilight may be to men, The Expendables may be to women. Scratch that. Both feature actors taking their shirts off to reveal perfectly cut bodies; the difference is that with The Expendables the taut skin has been carefully pulled into place by some of Hollywood's finest plastic surgeons.
Also, the oohs and aahs you'll hear from the audience won't be because of any chaste sexual tension. It's because for the love of god, man, Sylvester Stallone sure knows how to capture an orgy of violence that would make Itchy and Scratchy proud.
The script (by Stallone and Dave Callaham) does take a stab at romance. After a hard day of battling Somali pirates, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) returns to his woman Lacy (Charisma Carpenter) to find that she's left him for another man. This allows for two things: awkward banter between Statham and Stallone about relationships, and a chance for Statham to cut loose and take out a pick-up basketball team when it turns out that "the new man" abuses Lacy.
As much as it's a pleasure to see Carpenter on-screen again, she's so beside the point in this movie that she could have been cut out entirely and those two things would still have happened. Nobody would have questioned it, because Statham is a Nijinsky of hand to hand combat.
We did not come to see The Expendables looking for meaningful dialogue and believable soulful looks, though Stallone's eyes still carry the weight of the world. Or that could be the weight of the collagen over his brows. We came to see some of the greatest action stars of the last thirty years get together for a party, maybe endorse a new star or two.
That's clearly the goal, and as director, Stallone delivers. His main triumvirate of himself, Statham and the elfin Jet Li get plenty of time to remind you that no matter their age, they can still bring it. But he's generous with everyone; Dolph Lundgren gets a couple of great fights sequences in, and despite his "Gunner Jensen" being supposedly borderline psychopathic, there's no hard feelings.
The new guys get their licks in, too. If you've been waiting for a showdown between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Randy Couture, seeing The Expendables is a lot cheaper than a pay per view and no more fictional. Though he tends toward comic relief, Terry Crews also reminds people that he does carry a big can of whoop-ass, right next to his very big gun.
If you do want to see actual acting, it's left to Mickey Rourke. He serves as a vague analog to both M and Q, getting assignments for this group of mercenaries and making sure that they're properly outfitted. Retired from active duty, Rourke's "Tool" spends his time painting, tattooing, dating trashy women and looking suspiciously like Whiplash from Iron Man 2. But when the movie needs emotional depth, he delivers the monologue that ties it together.
You may notice that this review has been very, very light on plot description. That's because you've seen what little plot there is in a hundred action movies starring many of these same people. Here the target is a small island nation that needs liberating. Sure, there's money involved at first, but it turns into reclaiming the spark of honor.
Of course, that spark turns to explosions, and by the last half hour, the violence ratchets up to such a relentless pace it becomes a symphony. It's almost too hard to track who's fighting who at times, and then Stallone slows things down with a contrapunto of Crews walking through with his big gun. In all sincerity, Stallone has underrated skill as a director; he just never has material that would let people really appreciate it.
Some of us do, I guess. The Expendables is barely more sophisticated than Stallone's movies like Cobra and the later Rambo installments, but it doesn't claim to be. You can eat, pray and love later; for now, you've got to just watch things go BOOM!