Outside of what you see on the posters, the “Expendables” movies have never been particularly ambitious. Sure, it was great that the action stars of previous decades like Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Harrison Ford could come together for a series of action movies in the 2010’s, but the films were never more than just an excuse to sell tickets based on the actors’ names. The reviews were rarely good, and the good ones were usually of the apologetic “it’s dumb, but it’s fun” variety. Now it’s a new decade, it’s been nine whole years since we’ve had one of these movies, and whatever fun there was to be had in the first three entries is sorely missing from “Expend4bles.”
That groan-inducing “4” in the title (reminiscent of the awful “Fant4stic”) may as well refer to the number of actors that are back. Stallone and Statham are leading the team as Barney Ross and Lee Christmas, respectively, while Dolph Lundgren serves as aptly-named sniper Gunner and Randy Couture is among the ranks as demolitions guy Toll Road. New to the crew are audience surrogate Easy Day (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson), CIA operative and Christmas’s girlfriend Gina (Megan Fox), former Expendable brought out of retirement Decha (Tony Jaa), son of Banderas’s character Galan (Jacob Scipio), martial artist Lash (Levy Tran), and ally of Ross’s since the 1980’s Marsh (Andy Garcia).
Opposing the Expendables’ ability to waste another night at the bar is a team led by Rahmat (Iko Uwais). They’re trying to steal a nuke and start World War III and somehow make a lot of money in the process. Actually, Rahmat is just the temporary leader, he’s really working for a mysterious boss called Ocelot whose identity Ross was very close to uncovering in the 80’s, but just barely slipped away. No, the obvious suspect isn’t a red herring, the movie really thinks you’ll consider Ocelot’s identity a shocking twist.
A mission to stop Rahmat and Ocelot in Libya goes sideways thanks to Christmas disobeying an order, and the team is forced to press on without he and Ross. The failure supposedly has a devastating consequence, but the movie isn’t stupid enough to make it stick. It’s stupid enough to think the audience will think that it will stick, but it isn’t stupid enough to actually make it stick.
The rest of the movie mostly takes place on a cargo ship whose deck looks like a second-rate laser tag arena. There the Expendables do battle with an army of bad guys, most of whom inexplicably cover their faces. Well, I think I can explain why the movie has them cover their faces, I just don’t know why the characters would. I wouldn’t have thought about the likelihood of the movie reusing stunt performers during these sequences, except that the conspicuous face coverings drew my mind to the matter. I had to think about something more stimulating than the many interchangeable fights and shootouts.
There’s no shortage of things to dislike about “Expend4bles.” The action is cheap and tedious, the script is a joke, the jokes aren’t funny, and a twist toward the end means that a team member committed a completely unnecessary murder. On top of all that, the franchise’s greatest asset – its sheer star-power – is greatly depleted. Did the studio really think that 50 Cent and Andy Garcia would make up for a lack of Schwarzenegger? “Expend4bles” lost in its opening weekend to the third weekend of “The Nun II,” and its $8.3 million domestic take still feels like audiences were too generous. You want an exciting ensemble movie? Go see “A Haunting in Venice,” it could use a boost in ticket sales.
“Expend4bles” is rated R for strong/bloody violence throughout, language and sexual material. Its running time is 103 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.