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A group of mercenaries is hired to infiltrate a South American country and overthrow its ruthless dictator. Once the mission begins, the men realize things aren't quite as they appear, finding themselves caught in a dangerous web of deceit and betrayal. With their mission thwarted and an innocent life in danger, the men struggle with an even tougher challenge -- one that threatens to destroy this band of brothers. Barney Ross is a man with nothing to lose. Fearless and void of emotion, he is the leader, the sage and the strategist of this tight-knit band of men who live on the fringe. His only attachment is to his pickup truck, his seaplane and his team of loyal modern-day warriors. His is a true cynic who describes what he does as "removing those hard to get at stains." The team behind him is made up of Lee Christmas, former SAS and a savant with anything that has a blade; Yin Yang, a master at close-quarter combat; Hale Caesar, who has known Barney for ten years and is a long-barrel weapons specialist; Toll Road, a skilled demolitions expert and considered the intellect of the group; and Gunnar Jensen, a combat veteran and an expert in precision sniping who struggles with his own demons. When the mysterious Church offers Barney a job no one else would take, Barney and his team embark on what appears to be a routine mission: overthrow General Gaza, the murderous dictator of the small island country of Vilena and end the years of death and destruction inflicted on its people. On a reconnaissance mission to Vilena, Barney and Christmas meet their contact Sandra, a local freedom-fighter with a dark secret. They also come to learn who their true enemy is: rogue ex-CIA operative James Monroe and his henchman Paine. When things go terribly wrong, Barney and Christmas are forced to leave Sandra behind, essentially giving her a death sentence. Haunted by this failure, Barney convinces the team to return to Vilena to rescue the hostage and finish the job he started. And to perhaps save a soul: his own.
For more about The Expendables and the The Expendables Blu-ray release, see the The Expendables Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 16, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writers: Dave Callaham, Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts (I), Randy Couture
» See full cast & crew
The Expendables Blu-ray Review
So much botox, so much more kaboom.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 16, 2010
What's an aging action star to do? Once the muscles begin to go slack and the paunch begins to creep, suddenly appearing shirtless and wreaking havoc on any number of evildoers doesn't seem like such a wise career move. And truth be told, most action stars are not exactly heavyweights in the acting arena, so cherché character parts are typically not in order, either. And so that doesn't leave a lot of options open other than lowbrow comedy and, ultimately, self-parody. And so you have to at least give Sylvester Stallone some props for having the cojones to go all out and make a slam bang action film like The Expendables, a largely brainless effort (in only the best way) that delivers a slew of good to excellent action sequences while never even trying to poke beneath the heavily botoxed surface of any of its stars. President Johnson evidently once joked about his future successor Gerald Ford that the only unelected President in history had "played football without a helmet once too often." One can only imagine what head trauma the various stars of The Expendables have undergone in their long and varied careers, and so expecting a finely wrought drama full of nuanced human emotion would be an exercise in futility. The Expendables knows what it wants to be, gets there with little fuss or bother, and if there's little in the way of "character arcs" or "plotline," does it really make any difference when you have a coterie of iconic stars blasting the hell out of Somali pirates and South American despots?
Barney Ross (Stallone) is an aging mercenary who belongs to an exclusive boys' club where the guys ride tricked out hogs, get tattoos and/or advice from their creepy-cool mentor, Tool (Mickey Rourke), and occasionally fly off to foreign lands to maim and kill people. What's not to love? Rourke's character's name is the viewer's first clue that actual character will be shorthanded with cutesy soubriquets, and so the gang is made up of guys with names like Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Gunner (Dolph Lundgren). This motley crew is an amalgamation of different fighting styles, including Yang's martial arts expertise and Christmas' handy way with blades. The film opens with a set piece where several hostages are freed from Somali pirates by this rogue group of good guys. Does it even need mentioning that there's nary a bad guy left standing by the end of the sequence? Though some real drama is developed (not) with the nascent beginnings of a subplot wherein Barney finds he can no longer trust Gunner. Considering Stallone and Lundgren's previous bout as nemeses in Rocky IV, is there any doubt as to where this plot point is going?
The main thrust of the movie takes place in the tropical non-paradise of Vilena, a fetid little country of squalor and CIA infiltrated drug trade, presided over by its native General (David Zayas, Dexter) and his Black Ops handler, Munroe (Eric Roberts). Barney and gang are hired by a mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis in an unbilled cameo) to take out the General, but they soon figure out after a disastrous initial incursion that Munroe is the real bad guy. Along the way, Stallone falls for the General's daughter, Sandra (Giselle Itié), leaving her behind when he escapes the first debacle, but realizing, after a charming monologue about suicide with Tool, that the sanctity of his soul depends on his return to save the girl. Yes, this is that by the numbers. This is a film where scintillating dialogue consists of Willis turning to Stallone and the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger (in an even briefer cameo than Willis'), and asking, "What, are you guys going to suck each other's dicks?" Who says the art of screenwriting is dead?
There's nothing even remotely surprising about anything in The Expendables, but that doesn't mean the film doesn't come through with flying colors in the extremely limited realm of its ostensible ambitions. This is brain dead entertainment, and it fulfills that mission about as artfully as could be expected. Stallone has proven himself repeatedly as a very cogent director of action sequences, and when he isn't indulging in modern tricks of the trade like "shaky cams," he stages a number of really effective moments throughout the film. The fight scenes are of course wonderfully cartoonish, though some prospective audience members looking at this cast list might be expecting more bone crunching than actually occurs. Stallone offers instead briefer moments of insane gun battle, lots of big explosions, one very well executed car chase, and an over the top final sequence that is virtually 15 minutes of nonstop mayhem, including buildings blowing up, people catching fire, and bazookas blowing baddies to smithereens. Just when you think the deafening onslaught is dying down, Stallone amps it back up again, and this final tour de force (literally) will leave most people breathless, if only for its relentless pace and nonstop LFE.
While the surfeit of botox in at least a few of these actors deprives the performances from having any nuances like, you know, facial expressions, there's a testosterone-fueled camaraderie amongst these guys that rings true, even when they're saddled with some of the most patently ridiculous dialogue ever shoehorned into an action feature (and that's saying a lot). Stallone and Statham work well off of each other, never really getting to Odd Couple heights which are only kind of hinted at. The supporting cast does well in roles which are largely ciphers tied to their cutesy nicknames. Li especially is wasted, both in acting and, perhaps more surprisingly, fight sequences. He does get one big showdown with Lundgren, but it's shot in such a dank and dark setting that his spectacular fight moves are hard to see. The main acting gravitas here, if it can be called that in such a spectacularly silly film as The Expendables, is Mickey Rourke. His whiskey- and nicotine-soaked voice may not have anything very meaningful to say, despite co-scenarists Stallone and Dave Callaham's futile and largely ridiculous attempts to invest some soul searching into the film, but Rourke's mere presence speaks volumes and he gives this film what little—and I do mean little—emotional impact it manages to eke about between things that go boom.
The Expendables traded its considerable star power for pretty impressive box office worldwide, and Stallone is already making noise about a sequel. He's trying to enlist several action stars who either declined to be in this first outing, or were unavailable, people like Jean-Claude Van Damme. If this franchise itself never rises above popcorn fare—and really that's not such a bad thing—it at least might provide some steady employment for actors who saw their careers dissipate with the onslaught of middle aged spread.
The Expendables Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Expendables blasts its way onto Blu-ray with a very sharp looking AVC encoded transfer in 1080p and 2.40:1. Stallone stages a lot of this film in a cool, blue-tinged darkness, and that icy black look is incredibly well detailed, proving this disc's exceptional contrast and remarkable black levels. When Itié is being held in a cell which has virtually no light, the outlines of her jet black hair can still be plainly seen against the overall shadows of the interior. In fact fine detail is exceptional throughout this enterprise. While some cynics may argue that the lack of skin pores and waxy complexions may hint at DNR, those with any knowledge of contemporary cosmetic techniques will only see the prevalence of botox. Close-ups in fact reveal a wealth of detail, not all of it flattering. What has happened to the left side of Stallone's face, for example? Jet Li's pockmarks are also very visible. Colors are nicely robust, though somewhat muted in the darker scenes.
The Expendables Blu-ray, Audio Quality
If you're looking for a circa 2010 reference quality audio mix, look no further than The Expendables. To say this lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is aggressive is a little like saying this film has a bit of testosterone going for it—it is, in other words, a major understatement. From the first rumbles of the Expendables' motorcycles, you know you're in for a sonic thumping, with some extraordinary LFE. This is easily one of the most robust tracks in recent memory and certainly is one of the most ear pummeling sonic journeys in recent action film history. Discrete effects are brilliantly strewn across the soundfield, whether it be the silvery flash of a blade cutting through the air, or the gut churning "whomp" of a bazooka firing into a crowd. The final segment, which builds to an almost incredible level of sonic activity, is simply a riot of foley effects, with explosions, gunfire, collapsing buildings and thudding bodies cascading over each other in incredible surround activity. For the one or two seconds of quiet dialogue in this film, the DTS track is also spot on, providing exceptional fidelity and nice separation.
The Expendables Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Lionsgate has provided a nice supplementary package with The Expendables. This is in fact the first Lionsgate title I've reviewed where their LG-Live gadgets finally correctly link to my local time and weather. Aside from that, there's also:
The Expendables Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you come to The Expendables expecting Eugene O'Neill, you've been playing too much football without a helmet. This film is an unapologetic testosterone-fest, and as such it provides plenty of explosions, gunfights, hand to hand combat but perhaps surprisingly few nubile young women. Oh, well, you can't have everything. The cast here is game and is obviously in on the joke. If the film tries too hard to make it all have "meaning," thankfully it's not too long before something else blows up. This Blu-ray offers a substantial supplementary package, great visuals and a truly astounding sound mix and, despite the film's flaws, comes Recommended.
The Expendables: Other Editions
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The Expendables Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray - November 23-29 - November 23, 2010
Much like the characters they play, action stars refuse to die. Just when you think they have slipped out of the spot light, the Sylvester Stallones and Bruce Willises of the world come back to show you that they can still stick beat down the bad guys. Today's ...
• Expendables Blu-ray Coming Up - October 5, 2010
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced The Expendables for Blu-ray release on November 23, in a BD/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack. For this film in the vein of the action movies of the 1980s and early 1990s, director/co-writer/star Sylvester Stallone gathered ...
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