Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Kellan Lutz, Rhonda Rousey, Robert Davi
Barney Ross (Stallone) and his team of crack mercenaries break a former member of their crew, Doctor Death (Snipes), out of a middle-eastern prison before embarking on a mission to take down the arms dealer who has been supplying a Somali warlord. Turns out said arms dealer is no less than Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), a former Expendable himself who had previously been presumed dead. When Stonebanks escapes, Ross disbands his crew and recruits a fresh bunch of young grunts to hunt the traitor down.
It took three movies, but the Expendables has finally delivered on its promise of recreating the dubious thrills of the star-led 80s action movie. The first edition took itself far too seriously and the result was a drab, lifeless affair, while the sequel veered too far in the other direction by taking on the walking memes of Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme. This third installment finds a merry balance. It doesn't take itself seriously one bit, but the winking at the audience is kept to a minimum, the comedy instead coming from a cast of actors delivering a masterclass in scenery chewing and comic timing.
If you're looking for a well executed action-fest, you'll be sadly disappointed, as director Patrick Hughes, whose only previous credit is the 2010 Aussie thriller Red Hill, is severely lacking when it comes to staging action. Like every other director who finds themselves out of their depth on a big budget action movie, Hughes falls back on the cliches of quick cuts and shaky-cam, hoping a blur of motion will fool us into believing we're seeing something more exciting than we actually are.
Where the movie succeeds is in the scenes in between the dull set-pieces, as the actors have a blast riffing off each other in their over the top roles. It's difficult to decide who ultimately steals the show, with everyone determined to outdo one another. Gibson relishes his snarling panto villain, Ford plays a riff on his Late Show with Letterman persona, all snark and gruffness, Banderas is a comic revelation as a character who feels like a live-action version of Eddie Murphy's Donkey from Shrek, and Grammer delivers his best comic performance post-Frasier.
I should really be old enough to know better, but it's hard for an 80s kid not to feel a pang of delight at getting to see Mad Max fight Rambo while Han Solo pilots a chopper with a cigar-chewing Arnie as his Chewbacca. With the younger cast members (Lutz, Rousey et al) roundly displaying a complete lack of charisma, it's a sad reminder of how Hollywood no longer produces movie stars.
Like Steven Soderbergh's Oceans movies, The Expendables 3 feels like you've gatecrashed someone else's party. With Soderbergh's series it was a party you never felt quite welcome at, but here Stallone greets you at the door, cracks you open a can of beer and shoves a hot dog in your face. Like the best parties, you won't remember a thing about The Expendables 3 the following morning, but you'll be glad you were there.
By Eric Hillis
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