Movie review: The Expendables 3 feels as long in the tooth as its cast | Arts

Movie review: The Expendables 3 feels as long in the tooth as its cast


Dolph Lundgren as Gunner Jensen - PHOTO BY PHIL BRAY
  • photo by Phil Bray
  • Dolph Lundgren as Gunner Jensen
The Expendables 3
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In 1993, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in Last Action Hero, a satire of the action film genre. While not a well-made film, its premise was prescient. The days of the big Hollywood action star—a lineage that runs from the swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks through such paragons as John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Schwarzenegger—were waning.

Today, the action genre survives and continues to thrive. But our craving for larger-than-life heroes has fallen prey to decades without major wars (movie heroes were partly born from our desire to animate their real-life archetypes) and advances in computer-generated imagery, which have democratized action casting. Now any actor can be the hero, including Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire and Scarlett Johansson. Big-budget action movies once served their lead actor; today it’s the other way around.

The Expendables series addresses the plights of both action movie leads and the actors behind them. The characters are over-the-hill paramilitary mercenaries out to show they still have what it takes to save the day. The actors playing these roles are a cadre of over-the-hill action stars out to prove they can still entertain audiences (and earn a paycheck).

But that function was served four years ago with the first Expendables film. Two sequels later, The Expendables 3 feels as long in the tooth as its geriatric cast. The plot, such as it is, has Stallone leading a band of younger Expendables to apprehend a brutal international arms dealer played by Mel Gibson. But when the whippersnappers are captured, it falls to Stallone and his old crew to save the day.

Listing character names is pointless, as there’s little to separate the actors from their token roles. Indeed, meta flybys sustain the film, which opens with Sly and company breaking former comrade Wesley Snipes out of a foreign military prison—he was jailed for “tax evasion,” Snipes’ character quips.

Libation-loving Dolph Lundgren takes several swigs from a flask. Kelsey Grammer references his multiple divorces and children. A garrulous Antonio Banderas is a Spanish war vet who lies about his age to get a job. Harrison Ford gets to pilot in a dogfight again. Schwarzenegger tells everybody to “Get to da chaw-pa!” And Gibson chews the scenery as a villain once cast aside by the establishment (wink wink) with more gusto and acting acumen than the film deserves. There’s even a shot fired at Bruce Willis, who declined to reprise his role from the previous two films over a salary disagreement—his character is called “an asshole” and “no longer in the picture.”

Unfortunately, the rest of The Expendables 3 is formulaic filler. The younger cast members—including boxer Victor Ortiz, MMA star Ronda Rousey and Kellan Lutz (who was Emmett Cullen in the Twilight films)—are charmless, witless bores, although I wonder if that was somewhat intentional, given the film’s premise.

At times, the film inserts extended action sequences that are little more than collages of cannon fodder and bad CGI. It would have been wiser to fully embrace the film’s satirical side, à la Tropic Thunder or even Last Action Hero. Otherwise, for anyone without a frame of cinematic reference that predates 1990, this feels much like its title suggests: expendable.

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