If “John Wick: Chapter 4” were a corned beef on rye with all the fixings, “Expend4bles” would be more akin to a Lunchables.
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As a 1980s and 1990s action movie fanatic I’ve always had a soft spot for “The Expendables” franchise. None of them are good, but all of them are fun. The best of the bunch is Simon West’s second installment if for no other reason than it contains a shot wherein Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis are firing guns directly at the camera simultaneously. This is what these flicks are supposed to be – a stroll down memory lane where aging action heroes bring the pain!
“Expend4bles” (now in theaters) flips the script on “The Expendables” formula by being less of an ensemble effort and more of a Jason Statham vehicle. A lot of folks have grumbled about this, but I like me some Statham so I was along for the ride.
“Expend4bles” opens in Libya at Muammar Gaddafi’s old chemical plant. Terrorist Rahmat (Iko Uwais) turns up to steal nuclear detonators from an ill-fated General on behalf of his mysterious boss The Ocelot. Their goal is to use this weapon to start World War III between the United States and Russia … something that could conceivably happen without their intervention.
Looking to stop them are our titular “Expend4bles” in the form of Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and newbies Easy Day (Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson) and Galan (Jacob Scipio – he played Will Smith’s son in “Bad Boys for Life;” he’s Antonio Banderas’ son here) who are taking their marching orders from former CIA spook Marsh (Andy Garcia).
Christmas makes a call that costs the gang Rahmat and the detonators, which gets him ousted from the squad. On their next stab at securing Rahmat Christmas’ ex-girlfriend Gina (Megan Fox) gets promoted to team lead and Lash (Levy Tran) joins the crew as well.
Christmas teams with Decha (Tony Jaa), a former associate of Barney’s who’s taken a vow of non-violence (short-lived to be sure), to track The Expendables to a freighter where they’re battling Rahmat and his anonymous band of rascals. Christmas boards the ship hoping for heaping helpings of redemption and revenge.
“Expend4bles” as directed by Scott Waugh (“Need for Speed,” the recent Jackie Chan/John Cena Netflix action offering “Hidden Strike”) and scripted by Kurt Wimmer (writer/director of the Christian Bale gun kata sci-fi actioneer “Equilibrium”), the awesomely-named Tad Daggerhart and Max Adams (he previously penned Willis DTV detritus “Extraction” and “Precious Cargo”) is the worst entry to this franchise to date. With that being said, it’s not as bad as everyone’s making it out to be.
The acting is so-so (Statham and Garcia come across the best of everyone). The action is generally pretty cool – props to stunt coordinators Rok Cvetkov, Antoni Davidov, Alan Ng and Peter Pedrero and fight choreographer Vlasto Ivanovic for designing the falls and fights and Statham, Uwais and Jaa for performing them expertly. The CG is spotty. The script is kind of wonky (it’s obvious who The Ocelot is from the drop, our heroes kidnap and kill an innocent man at the picture’s conclusion and it’s disturbingly played as a punchline), but I was admittedly amused by extended monologues about golden showers and genital warts.
“Expend4ables” is a Millennium Media production (as were its predecessors), which is the modern day equivalent to Cannon Films. This is likely the most Cannon “The Expendables” canon has been to date – Statham rides a motor bike with guns mounted to the front of it like he’s Chuck f*ckin’ Norris in “The Delta Force.”
In a year that’s seen fellow Lionsgate film “John Wick: Chapter 4” elevate the action genre to exciting new heights, this feels a bit like an also-ran. If “Wick” were a corned beef on rye with all the fixings, “Expend4bles” would be more akin to a Lunchables. This cracker just happens to enjoy cheese.