Monday, August 16, 2010


It' a grinding bummer to have to deal with news of the stupid and venal every day, like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV) feeling compelled to come out against the Cordoba Islamic Center in NYC to somehow help his campaign all the way out in Nevada, or that CNN somehow has to discuss First Lady Michelle Obama being called Marie Antoinette by the evil wingnuts and their Fox-fueled noise chamber. It's times like these that, well, you just want to see something blow up. Or maybe a lot of things blow up.

Enter The Expendables.

Usually I wait a day until writing about a movie, to let it marinate, to come up with a worthy analysis more than an off-the-cuff critique. In this case, I'll make an exception. Sly Stallone has made a Dirty Dozen style adventure film that may not match memories of that epic, but maybe it wasn't all that genius when you first saw it. What Stallone has done is sort of a marriage of that type of action-adventure boy film with a late-period Howard Hawks "hang-out" film where John Wayne and a number of familiar, welcome supporting stars would sort of act out a forgettable plot but audiences loved the company anyway.Check Spelling

The plot is serviceable, the dialogue not as clever as it might think, but the cast is a blast -- the spectacle of generally older, buff dudes who have paid their dues starting three decades ago, sweating in muscular hand-to-hand combat, firing gun after gun after reload after reload (Terry Crews has the most cathartic weapon of all), and blowing up so much stuff that to even tell you would be to give away the plot.

Yep, it's not Shakespeare (although The Bard is referenced by Eric Roberts) and no one's going to be nominated for an Oscar, but when Jason Statham takes control of the machine guns on the airplane or Randy Couture and Steve Austin square off or Stallone continues to reload without moving his automatic, it's a welcome relief from not just the news but the work week. Maybe not for a female audience -- the movie celebrates male camaraderie with lip service towards female companionship.

Along the way Sly makes clear that waterboarding is torture, brings up the value of psychotherapy and handcrafted art, and gets the best laugh of the dialogue part of the story with a good-natured meta-jab at the Governator. It's nice to see David Zayas of Oz working again, and Mickey Rourke provides some actual acting, particularly a monologue that recalls (yes, crazy as it sounds) one by the Walter Bernstein character in Citizen Kane. He may look crazy, but Rourke can do so much just with his voice...impressive.

Some of the action scenes are shot too close-up and cutty for my tastes, as I couldn't always tell where who was doing what to what, but it's a step above the terrible graphic jumpiness of the last Bond movie. There's a few ultra-long shots of firey devastation that are just gorgeous and satisfying. And there's one Stallone stunt trying to get into a moving airplane that's one of the more original and gripping moments.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of the experience was the audience. It was a mix of young guys, older guys, a number of dates, and some older intellectual-looking guys going together. Sure, it's just a variation on a formula, but there's something gratifying about explosions and squibs that don't seem like CGI, that aren't geared just for geeks who've read the right graphic novels, that isn't pretending to be more than it is.

What the movie is, is a break.

And we could all use one.

No comments: