(Published in The Sunday Guardian on 26 August 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/muscle-tale-sans-the-story)
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Liam Hemsworth, and others
Director: Simon West
Rating: 3 stars
Let’s be honest. If you were a girl born in the Seventies or Eighties, there were some men you wanted to marry – Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood, Mickey Rourke (before he did whatever he did to that face). And if you were a boy born in the Seventies or Eighties, there were some men you thought girls wanted to marry – Rocky (wait, what’s his real name, yes, Sylvester Stallone), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris. These two groups form the cast of The Expendables series.
Well, them and Jason Statham. And Liam Hemsworth – you do wonder what he’s doing in this film, until he bows out with premature retirement and its consequences. Obviously, you’re not looking for a plot. You’re here to have fun...and fantasise about how some of these men looked when they had more hair and less muscle. Sigh. Fine, I’m only thinking of Bruce Willis now.
True, the script is awful, and the dialogue worse. But these are the men whom we loved for mouthing terrible lines when we didn’t know any better. Remember the Nineties, when we thought high side ponytails, scrunchies and knotted shirts were cool? On the plus side, Chuck Norris makes Chuck Norris jokes. Terminator parodies himself till Bruce Willis snaps, “You've been back enough.” Hell, they even joke about male pattern baldness.
To be honest, I spent a long time wondering if the whole movie was a spoof – I mean, surely we don’t have that much blood in our bodies? And how come an entire armoury’s lying abandoned just when they need it? And how do they find a village that hates the villain, Vilain (Van Damme)? Was that too alliterative? Jeez, was yet another head lopped off? Why am I looking for logic in an action movie partly scripted by Sylvester Stallone?
The fact that most of the film’s ensemble cast is in its 50s and 60s necessitates that most of the stunts be shot in the dark. But let’s focus on the positives. Where else would you see Jason Statham and Stallone coordinate their outfits and accessories? Or Schwarzenegger discuss grades of plutonium in a dreamily contemplative tone?
The story? Well, a kid wants to retire. A Chinese businessman needs rescue. Inevitably, these two strands lead us to a villain who wants to destroy the world. Of course, there’s a chick. Of course, she’s Chinese. That’s what you go with if you need someone who can do coding and break necks.
The Verdict: How can you miss a movie where Stallone is called ‘Barney’, and Willis and Schwarzenegger share a cosy car?