Thursday, August 14, 2014
Anyone looking for The Expendables 3 to provide summer's final hurrah at the box office might want to look elsewhere. Where the first Expendables played like a shaggy, small-scale reprieve from career oblivion for former action stars Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, and Jet Li, this one feels like it's lining up the burial plots. Where the second and best film in the series raised the stakes by bringing in Jean-Claude Van Damme as its villain and Chuck Norris as comic relief, The Expendables 3 overplays its hand amassing a cast of has-beens and future never-will-bes of such an unwieldy size that few get a chance at making any kind of impression.
The first that does is Wesley Snipes, returning to the screen after half a decade to play an original member of the mercenary crew led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone). It's telling that though the former medic's nickname is "Doctor Death," hinting at an intriguing kind of murderous expertise not yet seen in the motley crew, the choice is made to make the good Doctor a simple knife-wielding rival for the team's co-captain, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham). Though it does give Snipes a funny new appellation, "the Knife Before Christmas," it doesn't offer him much more than the one-note to play unfortunately. It is within that narrow space that Snipes seems determined to breathe some life into a movie otherwise devoid of character development.
Faring a tiny bit better is Mel Gibson, whose maniacal off-screen antics serve his role as Barney's arch-villain Conrad Stonebanks rather well. The real life issues that have brought these actors low enough to throw into this mess informs the background of most of these characters. So after Doctor Death's jailbreak from a black ops prison, the requisite "Why'd they send you away?" is met with the disarming "Tax evasion!" Stonebanks explains his motivations for betraying his one-time pal Barney by elaborating on how the espionage establishment turned their collective back on him and, worse yet, sent his own friends after him to eliminate him when all he wanted to do was make some money. Replace "espionage" with "Hollywood," and it's not hard to imagine how Gibson summons such spittle-inflected gusto as Stonebanks bitterly tells his tale.
But those moments are fewer and farther between than in previous installments of The Expendables. Though the movie clocks in at 20 minutes longer than the last installment, much of that time is spent re-acquainting us with the ever larger cast of roughnecks. And now, there's a new twist, Ross calls on an old ally (Kelsey Grammer) for younger replacements, a forgettable group of athletes and CW stars led by Kellan Lutz. So there's all of them to introduce in the hopes of handing the franchise off with the next one. Harrison Ford replaces Bruce Willis after he regained his senses and declared he better get more money if he's going to sink any lower in this morass. And there's Antonio Banderas and the required cameos by Jet Li, Schwarzenegger, etc.
Only Stallone gets any screen time, moving from one section of this loosely stitched Frankenstein's monster of a film to another as a sort of facilitator. But if it's any indication, a lethargic, slurred speech delivered as the gang of veterans drowns their sorrows may be proof that the 68-year-old Stallone is self-aware enough to know he can't keep pushing these action films out forever. Stallone designed The Expendables 3 to put these action heroes out to pasture in favor of fresh blood but, younger or not, don't look for their lackluster young co-stars to take the lead anytime soon.