Sly Stallone and his 'Expendables' club - The Buffalo News
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Sly Stallone and his 'Expendables' club

Please remember that Sylvester Stallone introduced us to the first entry in his successful “Expendables” franchise by proudly telling every TV interviewer he could that he’d assembled “the ugliest cast in the history of motion pictures.” If that doesn’t bid fair to being one of the most lovable bits of movie hype in our time, I don’t know what does.

Nor, as you look awestruck up at the screen at “The Expendables 3” is it really kidding either. There are so many close-ups here of Stallone’s gigantic, creased, granite head, along with Arnold Schrwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and ex-wrestler Randy Couture (who, the first time around, entertained movie audiences with a scholarly disquisition on the origins of cauliflower ear) that one is reminded, yet again, that the motion picture isn’t merely intended to give us close-ups of Scarlett Johannsson and Channing Tatum. It is just as interesting, if not more so, to give us a whole movie full of square jaws, angry eyes, shaved heads, scarred cheeks and muscle-bound necks in glorious color close-up 20 feet tall.

It’s enough to warm the chilliest heart.

Sure, sure, sure a lot of the new enlistees in the franchise used to be thought of as some of the reigning hunks and pretty boys of English-speaking cinema – Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas – but they fit in so well now with the movie’s basic joke that no one would dream of objecting.

The truly great basic joke is in Stallone’s title, now in its second sequel, that the cast members are mostly expendable. What they all play in the movie are mercenaries hired to do all the vile jobs that even Black Op CIA and NSA types won’t touch. (Or, as Clint Eastwood used to snarl to anyone who asked why he was called “Dirty Harry,” “Every dirty job grumble, grumble, grumble…”

But the glorious joke here is that Stallone was assembling as many actors as he could from the ’80s Golden Age of Steroid Cinema – The Expendables, then, of Hollywood’s Action Trade, all those muscle-head stars in the ordnance and marauder business, now in their Lipitor and Metamucil years.

Once gathered, Stallone would give them a place where they pretend to run around, spray bullets in every direction, fly helicopters and keep the world safe from evil.

Entrance to Stallone’s cinematic club, at first, required actors to be truly expendable in the Hollywood view of things. Now, it’s enough that the new recruits be age appropriate – Kelsey Grammer, for instance, whose superb but expendable Starz TV series “Boss” wasn’t considered desirable enough for a second season.

Bruce Willis wanted too much dough so they called Ford who, though far from “expendable” in current Hollywood, was good-humored enough to say “yes” to Stallone despite a still-viable career. He may still be thought of as a distinguished actor in American cinema, but his last line in this baby is “this is the most fun I’ve had in years” and, professionally speaking, I’d be willing bet a buck or two that there was at least a scintilla of truth in it.

Who, in 2014, is more expendable among once-major stars than Mel Gibson and Wesley Snipes?

Snipes plays Doc in “The Expendables 3.” As its first official order of business, his fictional character is lifted out of a prison train and is asked what he’d done to get there only to answer “tax evasion,” with a sneer at the sissiness of it all. Such smirks at the real world are part of membership in Stallone’s Expendables Club.

The premise here is that they’re all after Gibson, who plays an Expendable co-founder now gone bad, really, really bad. So bad that he refused to die when Stallone first killed him and went on dealing arms and paintings under a new name.

When Stallone and his boys fail to bring down malevolent Gibson, Stallone fires them all. “We’re not the future anymore,” he tells them mournfully. “We’re part of the past.”

With Grammer’s help, Stallone recruits a new young team – a computer genius, a female martial arts bruiser (Ronda Rousey), a pretty boy (Kellan Lutz, Hollywood’s most recent Hercules). But when Bad Boy Mel captures them, too, and threatens to turn them into kibble, guess who shows up to rescue them?

Awwwww, you peeked.

Many explosions happen. And more gunshots than were heard in the entire War of 1812, no doubt.

It all seemed a wee bit long and slow to me when there were no bullets flying, explosions happening and wisecracks pinging, but all those heroically ugly close-ups require serious screen time.

It’s their club. Sly invented it. It’s enough of a mark of distinction to belong that Ford, sense of humor intact, decided to join.

When we watch them perform, we’re conferring our approval on the club’s pitilessly ironic charter.

Me? I vote yes.


"The Expendables 3"

2.5 stars (out of 4)


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