Skip to main content

I am the Hague!

The Expendables 3
(2014)

(SPOILERS) The one more famous for being pirated pre-release than its content. I’d like to say that’s a shame. There are certainly those who will proclaim this as The Expendables movie that gets it right(er). But really, it’s more of the same as the last two, only with several additions to the cast that make it – periodically – a lot of fun. Not enough to guarantee – or merit – a fourth outing, however.


Indeed, Stallone appears to have been intent on shooting his lumbering franchise in its steroidally inflated foot, as he introduces a bunch of young bucks (and honorary doe) with all the personality of mainstay Randy Couture. It’s as perverse a decision as focussing on Rocky’s son and a new champ in Rocky V (and look how well that did). Patrick Hughes, thrown his Hollywood entrance exam following decent Oz thriller Red Hill, does his best to keep his head above water, but there’s little very memorable here, or that Simon West couldn’t have done.


The plot, such as it is, finds Sly’s Barney Ross bent on getting even on discovering old Expendable co-founder turned uber-villain Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) is still alive. He doesn’t want his erstwhile chums to meet a grizzly fate (poor Terry Crews – far more watchable than Couture, so I don’t know why he had to be side-lined) so he fires the lot of them and takes on four anonymous newbies (one of whom wasn’t even memorable in Twilight), courtesy of Kelsey Grammar’s talent scout (asking what Grammar is doing here is akin to pondering why he would show up in a Transformers movie; to win that Razzie). These non-presences are at least balanced by the arrival of Antonio Banderas seemingly having the best time he’s had Stateside outside of voicing Puss in Boots.


He plays a sharpshooter no one wants to work with because he can’t stop talking. Banderas, playing (mostly – at one point he starts flirting with Ronda Rousey) against type, brings the kind of goofball energy and humour The Expendables needed from the outset. Instead, the series usually opts for tedious locker room camaraderie and groan-worthy quips.


There’s some amusement to be had from the bromance chemistry between Sly and the Stat, although most of their lines of fourth rate. Many of the ones relating to the Stat’s character, based on his surname, would have been rejected from The World is Not Enough (“Christmas is coming”; “But it’s only June”; “I’m the knife before Christmas”).


The misplaced search for a new gang (“I can do that” proclaims Sly, 69 this year, unconvinced that he can equal their feats) is thankfully replaced by the return of the old when dirty rotter Stonebanks ensnares the Expendatots. The worst of this is that Sly and his co-writers have spent the entire opening section of the movie introducing a hugely watchable Wesley Snipes (asked why he was locked up, his character Doctor Death replies sportingly “Tax evasion”; when Sly references an agency spook, Snipers doesn’t miss a beat with “Excuse me?”) He even cuts his beard with an unbelievably enormous and vicious-looking knife. Perfectly. But then, he’s gone. Snipes barely registers even when he’s brought back for the big rescue. If nothing else, it’s a reminder of what a strong screen presence he can be.


On the subject of strong screen presences, there’s Mad Mel. Gibson knows how to relish being a nasty bastard, and, unlike many of his co-stars, he has a natural intensity. It means any scene he’s in can’t help but carry a conviction the picture doesn’t really deserve. I say any scene; he’s hardly in it, but he casts a long shadow. Mel makes a particular impression escaping from his Expendable captors while riling and mocking them. Later he starts shooting his own men in frustration at their ineptitude (“How hard can it be to kill 10 men?... Couldn’t you even wound a few?”) That the picture finishes on a fairly crappy fight with the (10 years his senior, lest we forget) Sly is inevitable, but otherwise Mel makes the most of every minute he’s on screen.


The action isn’t especially memorable, and at times is just irritating (the motorbike sequence stands out in that regard). And all the big explosions are in the trailer (it’s also the case that there entire third act takes place in the same unscenic derelict warehouse). So the only things to talk about are the aging cameos. 


None more aging than Harrison Ford. Ford’s arches had fallen badly when he ill advisedly returned as Indy. It now seems that his face is following suit. Sometimes cinematographer Peter Menzies Jr looks favourably on Harrison, and he bares a resemblance to the icon of old (most of these shots are in a helicopter cockpit, where Ford sits against a green screen for the majority of his slender scenes). At others, it looks like he’s been slowly melting. Ford did at least made me laugh a few times, playing on his irascibility and failing to understand Lee Christmas’ accent (“What language is he speaking?”; “Stop mumbling!”)


Unfortunately Dolph has little to do. And neither does Arnie. He gets to reel off his Predator line “Get to the choppa!” several times, to rather desperate effect. But then, something very peculiar happens. He’s paired up with Jet Li, and the genuinely hilarious, playful Arnie is let loose. He accuses Sly of jealousy at their special relationship, while Li mocks Lundgren; “Tall people don’t live long”.


Robert Davi (Special Agent Johnson) appears for all of one scene, alas. The Expendables 3 is fundamentally quite crappy, but there’s enough sporadically likable silliness to make this, by a whisker, the most enjoyable of the trilogy. Just follow the through line from Snipes to Gibson to Banderas and on to Arnie and Li (there’s a good 10 minutes post-final fight, but the latter duo make it bearable). Stallone wisely (at least since the early ‘90s) contents himself with being the eternal straight man.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

It looks like we’ve got another schizoid embolism!

Total Recall (1990)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven offered his post-mortem on the failures of the remakes of Total Recall (2012) and Robocop (2013) when he suggested “They take these absurd stories and make them too serious”. There may be something in this, but I suspect the kernel of their issues is simply filmmakers without either the smarts or vision, or both, to make something distinctive from the material. No one would have suggested the problem with David Cronenberg’s prospective Total Recall was over-seriousness, yet his version would have been far from a quip-heavy Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars (as he attributes screenwriter Ron Shusset’s take on the material). Indeed, I’d go as far as saying not only the star, but also the director of Total Recall (1990) were miscast, making it something of a miracle it works to the extent it does.

How do you like that – Cuddles knew all the time!

The Pleasure Garden (1925)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s first credit as director, and his account of the production difficulties, as related to Francois Truffaut, is by and large more pleasurable than The Pleasure Garden itself. The Italian location shoot in involved the confiscation of undeclared film stock, having to recast a key role and borrowing money from the star when Hitch ran out of the stuff.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).