The only way Sylvester Stallone could possibly have crammed more testosterone into The Expendables would be if he'd marinated the actual film prints in the sweat-soaked leotards of WWE wrestlers before shipping them out to theaters. Loud, proud, and ridiculously violent, it's the hard-R, all-star fist-pumper that action fans have been eagerly anticipating since the 1980s. What sets it apart from many of the films from that era, however, is the fact that it's imbued with a self-aware streak that invites fans to laugh along with its countless implausibilities rather than try to tally them.
Approached by the shadowy Church (Bruce Willis) to overthrow tyrannical South American dictator General Gaza (David Zayas) and restore order to the troubled island country of Vilena, stoic soldier of fortune Barney Ross (Stallone) rounds up his unstoppable team of mercenaries, which includes former SAS soldier and blade specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), martial arts expert Yin Yang (Jet Li), trigger-happy Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), and cerebral demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture). Traveling to Vilena on a reconnaissance mission with his old pal Christmas, Barney meets their local contact, a cagey guerrilla fighter named Sandra (Giselle Itie), and together the trio scopes out the landscape. It isn't long before Barney and Christmas have discovered that their actual target is not General Gaza but James Monroe (Eric Roberts), a former CIA operative who has recently gone rogue. Monroe won't be easy to get to either, because his hulking bodyguard, Paine (Steve Austin), is a force to be reckoned with. When their mission is compromised, Barney and Christmas are forced to flee, leaving Sandra behind to face almost certain death. But Barney isn't the kind of soldier to abandon a mission, or a hostage, and now in order to get the job done he'll need the help of his old crew. The mission is complicated, though, when one of Barney's best men proves too unstable for the task at hand, and decides to start fighting for the other team.
In The Expendables, every punch and kick resonates with the resounding thud of a 1,000-year-old redwood slamming down to earth, and every explosion kicks up a mini-mushroom cloud that sends legions of henchmen soaring through the air in slow motion. It's essentially a big, bloody cartoon for nostalgic grown-ups focused on inventive new ways to batter, mangle, and mutilate the human body. As such, it succeeds admirably. Much like he did in 2008's Rambo, director Stallone relishes the opportunity to explore outrageous new extremes in action violence. It's no secret that filmmakers today can get away with quite a bit more while working in the confines of an R rating than they could back in the 1980s, when the MPAA was notorious for cutting action and horror flicks to ribbons, and The Expendables delivers the style of over-the-top thrills that Reagan-era action fans could only dream about, like a guy getting blown in half at the waist as his torso is sent rocketing across the room -- and that's just in the first ten minutes. Unfortunately as a director Stallone still lacks the skill to craft a coherent action scene, yet despite the fact that he falls back on the crutch of shaky cinematography and fast cuts far too frequently, he does punctuate each of his frantic set pieces with a series of increasingly ridiculous, jaw-dropping individual shots that make it a mess worth wading through (and give devoted fans a reason to have a blast studying the film frame by frame when it hits the home market).
Everyone gets their moment to shine in The Expendables -- even the hammy cameo players -- though the two who arguably get the best scenes are Dolph Lundgren and Crews, both making the absolute most of their screen time as a soldier-turned-junkie and a happy-go-lucky badass with a nuclear-powered shotgun, respectively. To steal the tagline from the notorious 1982 slasher flick Pieces (recently restored and released into theaters by Sylvester's son Sage), "it's exactly what you think it is." If the prospect of watching a collection of hulking, macho-talking mercenaries team up to overthrow a ruthless island dictator doesn't appeal to you, either you're not a child of the '80s, or perhaps your inner 12-year-old boy has finally hit puberty.