‘The Expendables’: Schwarzenegger, Stallone Ham It Up

August 10, 2010
By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to Newsmax.com

These day the news can be really depressing. The economy is getting kicked around and our quality of life seems like it’s going in the tank. Times for a good escapist movie.

Just our luck! A throwback flick arrives this week, and it captures the excitement of the 1980s action movies. It’s called “The Expendables,” a film co-written and directed by Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone.

Stallone has been able to gather together a group of action movie veterans to join him in the tribute to the genre. The cast includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke and Jet Li, as well as some additional action-flick leads like Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and Steve Austin.

Stallone recently had some choice comments about his fellow actors. “I thought we had the ugliest group of guys on the planet in one movie. That is what I am so proud of. We all look like horseshoes or catchers’ mitts,” he told Fox News.

See this movie expecting a complete diversion, one that relishes in its simple glued-to-the-seat entertainment value.

The ragtag collection of rowdy dudes comprise a team of highly-trained mercenaries who are sent on a mission to a South American island, the country of Vilena. Their goal is to overthrow a totalitarian dictator.

After having just finished taking out a bunch of Somali pirates, these mercenaries are looking for another paying gig. The group initially turns down the mission they’re offered. But when Stallone’s character meets the dictator’s beautiful rebel daughter, Sandra (Giselle Itie), money suddenly takes a back seat.

The plot isn’t new, but it is revitalized, thanks to the chemistry of the cast, nostalgia, tongue-and-cheek dialogue, and breakneck pace.

You gotta love the characters’ names. Stallone is Barney “The Schizo” Ross, a paramilitary veteran and team leader. Statham plays Lee Christmas, second in command of the team and an expert at close quarters combat. Li is Yin Yang, a Chinese martial arts expert. Lundgren is Gunnar Jensen, a Swedish sniper. Crews is Hale Caesar, a weapons specialist. Rourke is Tool, a former Expendable who is now an arms dealer.

Willis plays their employer, Mr. Church, and Schwarzenegger is Trench, Ross’s rival.

Stallone and his casting directors tried to bring in even more action stars. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal were offered roles but declined. The role of Hale Caesar was initially planned for Stallone's “Demolition Man” co-star, Wesley Snipes. The part was later rewritten for Forest Whitaker, who ended up having a scheduling conflict, so it was passed to 50 Cent and then to former NFL player, Crews.

The role of the guy who hires the Expendables, Mr. Church, was originally offered to Schwarzenegger, who declined in favor of a smaller cameo because of his governor duties. Being the current governor of California actually had an impact on the film's Los Angeles premiere. Out in front of the theater were California state workers, who were protesting pay cuts amidst the state’s $20 billion worth of red ink.

“The Expendables” has a fun comic-book feel, but it also has its share of violence. After all, it is an action flick. Be forewarned, though, the action rises to brutal level. The high body count rescue that opens the film is the first hint. Still, it’s fast, hard-hitting and versatile, and it has lots and lots of car chases for all to enjoy.

Unfortunately, a few all-too-typical Hollywood plotlines have been inserted, like the one that has the bad guys engaging in waterboarding, and the one that has a renegade CIA character involved with the dictator.

For me, the most fun part is seeing so many screen legends “actioning” it up together. Like the scene in which Stallone, Willis, and the moonlighting Governator appear. And those where you get to watch Li and Lundgren duke it out, Austin and. Couture in fisticuffs and Stallone and Statham fighting side by side.

Go see “The Expendables” for the fun of it. It won’t let you down.