It’s a little strange seeing Sylvester Stallone’s name under the screenwriting credits at the end of “The Expendables 3.” Here is a guy who broke into Hollywood by penning “Rocky” and then refusing to sell the script unless he got to play the lead role. In short, the man can write.
Of course, if there’s anyone qualified to spearhead the effort to keep Reagan-era big screen machismo alive, it’s Stallone. Your typical ’80s action hero wasn’t interested in a lot more than mowing down lots of bad guys and dropping bad one-liners, and Stallone was among the best at that particular job.
So now, with “Expendables 3,” we get a lot of ex-action heroes mowing down lots of bad guys and dropping lots of bad one-liners, to an almost gratuitous degree. The plot is simple, and the acting is functional. This is nowhere near a “good” movie.
But it’s still kind of fun.
Following in the tradition of the first two films in the series (albeit with a downgraded PG-13 level of violence and mayhem), “Expendables 3” follows the exploits of a group of past-their-prime roughnecks who do all the dirty jobs no one else in the world of secret ops wants. Stallone plays Barney Ross, the de facto leader, the film’s protagonist, and the guy who gets the most ponderous closeup shots.
Early on, the depleted group (Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren are still around, but series vets like Chuck Norris aren’t) rescues Doc (Wesley Snipes) from an eight-year stint in prison, which hasn’t seemed to dull his action hero skills in the slightest. But even his formidable skill set can’t fix a mission that goes bad when Barney and crew discover they’re up against one of their own, Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former Expendable turned bad.
When Barney’s CIA contact Drummer (Harrison Ford, replacing Bruce Willis, who apparently asked for too much money) gives him another shot at Stonebanks, Barney decides to fire his old team, fearing they’re finally too old to do the job. Instead, he recruits a young band of hot shots for the mission, and, well, let’s just say the rest of the gang is back in action by the third act.
“Expendables 3” almost feels like watching a high school reunion, only without the self-analysis and evaluation. This is not a film that is designed to be compelling or do anything remotely related to winning awards. It’s meant to put a lot of familiar faces on screen, blow a lot of things up and have a lot of fun. And in that sense, it’s certainly a passable way to spend a couple of hours. But given the lack of charisma displayed by the young guns, it may make you mourn for the future of the genre.
The highlight of the film is Gibson, who makes it clear that in spite of all his off-screen struggles, there is a reason he is a movie star. It’s also fun to see everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Antonio Banderas to Jet Li in action, and serious diehard fans will enjoy a special cameo from veteran supporting actor Robert Davi.
Even though the film’s rating is a step down in terms of adult content, it may set a record for 2014’s one movie body count. The gunplay alone is worth the budget of three Hollywood action films. Still, it’s never bloody enough to merit R-rated consideration, or brutal enough to become truly disturbing. If anything, it becomes kind of tedious.
In some ways, though, a bit more action and mayhem might have helped balance out a film that suffers from a slow second act. And at a two-hour running time, you’d think Stallone and Co. might have mined a bit more depth out of the story.
But maybe that’s beside the point. “Expendables 3” is 120-plus minutes of your old favorites shooting the bad guys, blowing stuff up and saying funny things. If you go in expecting anything else, you’re going to the wrong movie.
“The Expendables 3” includes considerable mayhem and action violence, shootings, stabbings and hand-to-hand combat. There’s also some consistent profanity, including a single use of the f-word.
The film's MPAA rating is PG-13 for strong action and bloody violence throughout and for some language.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. More of his work is at woundedmosquito.com.