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Star cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger (uncredited), Eric Roberts, David Zayas, Giselle Itie

Plot: Sylvester Stallone and his group of close-knit mercenaries are hired to kill the army dictator of Vilena, an island nation off Gulf coast. Stallone discovers that they are being set up by the CIA, but they return, nevertheless, to save the dictator’s daughter, a move that takes the banana republic to the brink of destruction.

What’s Good: You get to see the top action superstars share screen space; the well-executed action sequences, of which there are many; strong characterisations.

What’s Bad: The fact that Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger are on screen for such little time; the cheesy storyline; the boring dialogues.

Verdict: The Expendables is a retro-action flick; all brawn and no brains. Will make a good watch, only if you are an out-and-out action fan.

Loo break: When Sylvester Stallone seeks ‘love’ advice from Mickey Rourke!

Nu Image and Millennium Films’ The Expendables is a gritty and gory story of how a band of unruly, deadly, tattoo-sporting mercenaries unravel a CIA rouge agent’s unholy designs, and, in the process, decimate the army of a banana republic, all because the protagonist wanted to save a girl he liked.

While the word ‘expendable’ might stand for ‘capable of being sacrificed in order to accomplish a military objective’, this connotation hardly applies to former army-man Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his group of assassins – Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), former SAS and a savant with anything that has a blade; Yin Yang (Jet Li), a master at close-quarter combat; Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), who has known Barney for ten years and is a long-barrel weapons specialist; Toll Road (Randy Couture), a skilled demolitions expert and considered the intellect of the group; and Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), a combat veteran and an expert in precision sniping who struggles with his own demons.

With the help of Barney’s friend, Tool (Mickey Rourke), the close-knit group, which calls itself ‘The Expendables’ (with lots of tattoos, stickers reinforcing the title), goes on odd jobs in dangerous places, rescuing and killing at will. All of this for a neat fee. So when a certain Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) gives Barney the job of executing General Garza (David Zayas), the murderous dictator of the small island nation of Vilena, Barney and Lee readily fly into the picturesque island for a recce. While looking for the General’s castle, Barney develops a liking for their local contact, the petite Sandra (Giselle Itie), who also happens to be the General’s estranged daughter. Anyway, the duo has to beat a hasty retreat as the local army attacks and they are forced to flee; but not before they blow the only wharf on the island to pieces! Barney and Lee are, however, forced to leave Sandra behind, essentially making her vulnerable to a death sentence.

In reality, we are then told, General Garza is a very good ruler, who has fallen to the evil designs of a rouge CIA agent, James Monroe (Eric Roberts), and his henchman, Paine (Steve Austin), allowing them to use Vilena’s land for growing narcotics. In the meanwhile, Barney does his own research and discovers that Mr. Church is, in fact, a CIA agent who is using them, the ‘Expendables’, to wipe out their rouge agent. So Barney decides to let go of the mission as it would mean sure death for him and his buddies. Soon enough, Barney realises that he has a thing for the General’s daughter, Sandra, and must go back to protect her. What happens hereafter forms the crux of the story.

As has been described in painful detail, the story (Sylvester Stallone and Dave Callaham) is very average with no novelty factor. Or that is, up to the point where the action begins. The writers have made sure that they wrote for the benefit of the retro-action fans: no brains, all brawn and lots of gunpowder fill the second half of the screenplay. All the assassins, Stallone included, have been given their own weapons, which they willfully fire at anything that moves. For a mission where they were supposed to execute just the dictator, The Expendables end up butchering an entire army and destroying a magnificent castle!

To his credit, Stallone directs the movie in pure Rambo style. Special effects have been used to their fullest: slit throats, blasted carcasses, nail-biting car chases, shooting sorties, kung-fu fights, flying bodies – all make for terrific viewing, if you have the stomach for it. Direction, otherwise, is non-existent. Even the possible romantic angle between Stallone and Giselle is not explored at all.

Sylvester Stallone looks past his prime but manages to give the others a run for their money. Jason Statham, Jet Li and Terry Crews give good performances. Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, David Zayas, Giselle Itie, Eric Roberts and Steve Austin (the former wrestling star) have very little to do, besides overacting. However, the real problem arises when you feel cheated about Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 30-second-long appearance in the film. At least, Arnold was not a part of the film’s publicity, but one certainly expected a lot of action from Bruce Willis!

The Expendables, which could have been a lot more, in absence of a solid storyline and better performances, ends up being a faint shadow of the ‘80s-type action thriller that Stallone probably wanted to recreate. Watch it only if you are an action junkie.

By Mrigank Dhaniwala

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