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Movie Review: The Expendables

by KYW's Bill Wine --

Like a class reunion for '80s action stars, The Expendables issues the invitations, stockpiles the weapons, spikes the punch, and shows up as "Sly and the family Stallone."

About as expendable and disposable as popcorn movies get, The Expendables is an old-school action flick, an ensemble thriller that star Sylvester Stallone also directed and co-wrote.

In it, a group of hardened mercenaries heads to South America on a secret CIA-funded mission to infiltrate the small (and fictional) island country of Vilena so that they can overthrow a murderous dictator, General Gaza (David Zayas).

At least, that's what they're told.

Stallone plays Barney Ross, the leader of the tight-knit team. Under him are second-in-command Lee Christmas, played by Jason Statham; close-quarter-combat expert Yin Yang, played by Jet Li; weapons specialist Hale Caesar, played by Terry Crews; demolitions expert Toll Road, played by Randy Couture; and sniper supreme Gunnar Jensen, played by Dolph Lundgren.

Added acting-credentials bonus:  Oscar nominee Mickey Rourke turns up in a handful of scenes as grizzled military-man-turned-tattoo-artist womanizer Tool, through whom the team gets its assignments and who gets to deliver what passes for the film's thematic message.

On a reconnaissance mission, Ross and Christmas meet their contact, a local freedom fighter named Sandra (Giselle Itie), and learn that their ultimate enemy is an ex-CIA op played by Eric Roberts, and his henchman, played by Steve Austin.

But when Ross and Christmas must leave Sandra behind, the former is haunted by this failure and tries to talk the team into returning to Vilena to rescue the hostage.

The screenplay by Stallone and David Callaham, from a story by Callaham, declares its independence with all those cutesy, comic-book character names. But, otherwise, it just trots out the same tired plot already visited upon us this year in The Losers and The A-Team.

And, no, it does not get better with repetition or replication.

As a director, Stallone, coming off two respectable sequels -- 2006's fine Rocky Balboa and 2008's shaky Rambo -- makes sure that the action is unabated: he keeps the chases constant, the explosions blatant, the fights urgent, the bullets frequent, the body count abundant, and the one-liners pungent. For much of the time, he keeps his action-craving faithful in the napalm of his hand, employing a hyperkinetic editing style to accommodate all the comic-book violence.

But the climactic sequence -- with a succession of incendiary explosions that redefines "overkill" -- is so bloated, there's barely room for the audience in the theatre as it unfolds.

Not only has Stallone rounded up such a large a cast of big-screen tough guys that we find ourselves scanning the frame, "Where's Waldo"-style, in search of a glimpse of Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, and Jean-Claude Van Damme; he's also got two other action-flick biggies dropping in for a cup of uncredited cameo.

Not to issue any spoilers, but let's just say that one of them has a sixth sense about dying hard and the other fulfills his promise about being back from California.

So we'll overthrow 2 stars out of 4 for an amped-up, muscle-bound, by-the-numbers throwback about mercenary retribution that's aimed directly at action junkies. Boasting plenty of energy but little heft or grace, and drenched in what you might call "testostallone," The Expendables isn't quite regrettable, but is literally incredible and ultimately forgettable.

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