Monday, August 16, 2010
Only Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok could do justice to The Expendables (2010). Those were the guys who rated films on the basis of whether things "blowed up real good."
Really, there is no way to be analytical about a movie like this. It is there to deliver speed, noise and surprise the way a pancake is, fundamentally, a maple syrup delivery vehicle. The only question is whether the speed, noise and surprise is delivered in sufficient quantities.
The film doesn't even bother to ground itself in any sort of political (or temporal or physical) reality. There is a Latin American dictator doing unspecified bad things under the direction of a bad American gazillioinaire for unspecified reasons, but you can just tell they are Bad by Looking At Them. (This is not the kind of political thinking we want to encourage, but at least it's not as damaging as the Rambo series which people were encouraged to think was relevant to Southeast Asia. I'm not aware that we have big issues in Latin America right now, so we can dump on them with impunity, I guess.) And the mayhem and stunts precede therefrom. Sure, nobody is actually surfing on a missile or KO'ing a helicopter with a Crown Vic, as in Live Free and Die Hard, but they don't make much more sense than that.
For example, it's never explained why this dictator--given that he has an entire army at his disposal--doesn't just turn around and have the superbaddy (played atrociously by Eric Roberts) killed. Yes, he'll have to sacrifice a few drug connections, but I'm pretty sure that if you have the drugs and an army, you can make connections. Oh, sorry, I was trying to find sense in a movie that has characters named Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and Ying Yang (Jet Li). And an automated weapon that seems to shoot surface-to-air missiles without any evident recoil.
Even on its own terms, it sometimes comes up short. What has happened to the master shot? You know, the shot from a certain distance that allows the audience to orient itself and figure out who is putting their fist into the middle of who's face. Why do editors think that a fight without any context is interesting? I suppose there are sports fans who will watch any damn game that is on, but most of us want to have a rooting interest, which the master-less sequence denies us, because we have no idea what is going on. It is a challenge to come up with something to think about during these fight scenes that won't be too distracting once the story of the movie resumes.
Moreover, the lack of master shots even makes the stunts look fake and ineffective. In one particularly notable example, Stallone leaps sideways to catch onto the opening of a plane which is taking off, and hangs from it sideways, Buster Keaton-style. Except that they cut quickly from the master of the stunt man running and leaping to a studio mock-up of Sly hanging sideways, just like a cheesy-60s movie, and although someone probably did a great stunt, the urge to cut to Sly's face completely destroyed its credibility.
Don't get me wrong. We had fun at the movie, especially when the loud noises shut down the rational parts of the brain. There is some banter, much of it terribly lame and stale, although surprisingly, wrestler Randy Couture has the best of it. Jason Statham is awarded the greatest degree of character development via a girlfriend who has acquired a bad boyfriend, who Statham has to beat up. Thus, relationships with women is about protection and possession. Great. The other characterizations boil down to a sentence: Jet Li needs more money for his family, Randy Couture has a cauliflower ear, Terry Crews likes big guns, Dolph Lundgren is a bigoted junkie (but he gets better). But Mickey Rourke doesn't need any lines to project his weird, damaged-looking variety of cool, and this is a movie that is, like the women that these sort of men prefer, better when it is not talking.
Don't try to think, don't try to philosophize, just run around, throw knives, shoot guns, punch people in the face and pour on some extra gasoline for the really big boom.
Update on Inception:
There are some excellent discussions of Inception at a blog hosted by the Sun-Times called Scanners (see link in my blogroll). You can read them here, here and here. Especially remarkable when the author of the site doesn't care for the film much.