“The Expendables” – 2010. Dir. Sylvester Stallone

With Sylvester Stallone, Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, David Zayas with Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Eric Roberts.

“Bring it, happy feet.” – Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren)

If you’re expecting a “thinking man’s blockbuster” – ala “Inception” – you’d better move on.  If you’re looking for an over-the-top ball buster of a kick-ass action movie with nothing but a bunch of older guys who look better than I do – than you’re in luck because “The Expendables” is a delight.

This is a film with a weak storyline, an almost absurd script and some shotty acting.  But what this film has to offer is an unstoppable action sequence at the climax of the film, a huge loud gun that Terry Crews carries, a wickedly fun over the top performance by Eric Roberts and landmark moment in cinema history where Stallone, Willis and Arnold all share camera time in the same scene.

The story is simple: a band of mercenaries called the Expendables are hired guns that go from job to job while kicking ass and taking names.  The Expendables are led by Barney (Stallone) who’s right hand men are Lee Christmas (Statham) and Ying Yang (Jet Li) who will follow Barney to the gates of hell.  The rest of the band is made up of Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Crews) and Randy Couture.

They’ve just finished a job, and are hanging out at Tool’s (who is a former Expendable) tattoo shop awaiting the next job.  Mickey Rourke plays Tool who has limited screen time, but he’s still fun to see.  Tool gets a call, it’s an offer that he describes as “to hell and back” and Barney goes to meet his contact in a small church.  Inside the small church is Bruce Willis who dubs himself “Mr. Church” and as Barney asks him about the job, Mr. Church tells him they’re waiting for one more.  The front door swings open, and in walks Arnold.  It’s pretty sexy.  We learn that Arnold is Sly’s old partner and have contempt for one another.  I don’t really want to ruin the scene and Arnold’s cameo for you, so I’ll stop here.  All I have to say, is this scene could have been so much better.

The first half of this film is pretty slow.  We get a lot of unneeded character development, especially for Statham’s character.  We get more insight and development for Statham than we do anyone else, which I find lame – unless Stallone is planning on making a franchise and Statham will carry it on.  We learn little about Sly, other than he’s a hard-ass.  We learn that Dolph is crazy and has blood lust (what else is new?) and that Jet Li wants to make more money for his family.

This film is filled with so much absurdity and some horrible dialogue with little emotional connection – yet there is a small scene with Mickey Rourke and Stallone.  He tells Sly about a story, when he used to work with Sly, about how he watched a woman jump from a bridge and how with all the lives he’s taken, he could have saved one, but he chose not to.  It was actually very touching.

Aside from the action and the throwback cast, what really works for the film is the chemistry between the actors.  The chemistry between Rourke and Stallone is excellent, same with the three-way of Stallone, Willis and Arnold – it works so well because all these dudes are friends in real life.  Lundgren and Stallone are good on camera together, as is Statham and Li with Stallone – it all works pretty well because we know these guys had a ball making this film together.

Where this film really excelled is the fact that Stallone knows how to direct an action movie, and his skills are very well demonstrated in the final act of the film.  While Randy Couture is a little flat, and Terry Crews doesn’t have much to do, aside from shooting the most amazing fucking gun ever on screen – and Bruce Willis is underused, and Mickey Rourke just kind of hangs around – although Rourke is better in “The Expendables” than he was in “Iron Man 2” – I enjoyed Jet Li, and Statham didn’t annoy me as much in this film as he previously has.  What picks this film up is Dolph Lundgren and his hard bent attitude.  I mean, Lundgren is hot.  Seriously.

Next to Lundgren being a huge plus in the film is the fact that Eric Robert’s plays the villain of the film.  He’s a rouge CIA agent that has essentially taken over a Central American country to harvest cocaine.  Roberts has had a bumpy career, but one thing is for sure – he’s never given enough credit.  What Roberts has always been very, very good at is being over the top.  Giving performances that are over-the-top is an art form, because most of the time, they’re really bad (think Dustin Hoffman in “Confidence”).  Roberts makes being bad, look so fucking good.  Roberts is the highlight of the film.

Look this isn’t a great film, it’s a B film – and it’s not like a “Planet Terror” or a “Hell Ride”, it’s not a good movie made badly to be good – it’s just a bad movie, but it’s just so awesome.  Is this a good movie?  No.  But, is it a good movie?  Hell yes.

The only question I have for Sly is: where the fuck is Kurt Russell and Carl Weathers?

Rating: 7/10

Punisher Triple Feature!

“The Punisher” – 1989. Dir. Mark Goldblatt. With Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett, Jr. and Jeroen Krabbe.

The first of “The Punisher” films came out in the wave of the first “Batman” film, it was made before it was hip to make them. This isn’t a great film, but it is a lot of fun. The opening credits show much homage to comics, and how they are laid out and designed. This is basically a revenge film where Frank Castle (Lundgren with an awesome jet black “die” job [get the pun?!]) is out to kill all the mobsters in New York, to avenge the car bombing intended for him that killed his family. Louis Gossett, Jr. plays Castle’s former partner, who is the only cop in America convinced Frank Castle is the infamous Punisher! The dialogue is campy, and a lot of the action and supporting characters are over the top. Jeroen Krabbe plays the Mafia kingpin who comes from overseas to salvage what’s left the “family”. Krabble gives a great performance as always. What I found so interesting about the film is there is a character named Lady Tanaka who is the boss of the American Yakuza. She’s a strong independent woman who strong arms the mafia and tries to take control of their operations. This character screamed O-Ren Ishii from the Kill Bill saga. I wondered if this character was a slight template for Tarantino’s character. Probably not, but it’s cool to think about. All in all this is a film worthy of attention from comic book fans and action film fans.

Review: 7/10

“The Punisher” – 2004. Dir. Jonathan Hensleigh. With Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, and Roy Scheider.

This is a film that I thought was going to be lame and trashy. It isn’t. The film has a similar set-up as the first, but with much more depth, more character development and much more talent. Thomas Jane plays Castle this time around, and his dye job is more acceptable and believable. The film centers on Castle’s retirement. His last case to wrap up before retires is posing as a Russian gun runner who is selling weapons to the son of Howard Saint (John Travolta). The gun deal goes wrong and ends with the death of Saint’s son. Castle thinking his life in undercover law enforcement is over, retreats to the gulf for a long overdue family reunion where the patriarch of the Castle family lives, played excellently by Roy Scheider. Scheider’s small role in the film adds to the backbone of Jane’s character; showing the hard bark that Old Man Castle displays gives credibility to Frank Castle’s blood lust. While on vacation, Saint’s right hand man Quentin Glass (Will Patton) finds out the true identity of the Russian gun runner, and where he’s at. Saint orders Glass to lead a herd of baddies dressed in black to kill Castle – and his entire family – upon the request of his wife. John Travolta is surprisingly excellent; he gives his character a charming ruthlessness. Will Patton turns the best performance in the film. He gives the subtle and mystical performance of a very willing and capable man. Patton gives this character more depth than the character actually needs. Patton has always been one of my favorite character actors, turning up in small films and big films, always giving a solid performance. What makes this film work is the fact it isn’t overly stylized like most comic book films are. This film follows my Super Hero film template, of casting a relatively unknown or a star that isn’t as bankable, and bringing in “the heavy” with John Travolta and Roy Scheider. The cast isn’t packed with names (aside from what’s left of Travolta and Scheider’s), but all the performances are solid, leaving you wanting to watch it again.

Review: 8/10

“Punisher: War Zone” – 2008. Dir. Lexi Alexander. With Ray Stevenson, Julie Benz, Dominick West, and Wayne Knight.

This was a film that was supposed to continue the franchise with Thomas Jane playing Frank Castle. Jane left the project due to a disagreement with the studio over the route the character would take, along with the script and the new production team. This film captures the essence of comic book violence, much like “Sin City”. It’s very over the top and campy. A friend of mine is a gigantic comic book enthusiast, who was extremely excited about this version of The Punisher. This film is trite and lame, and you can’t help but feel the villain, Jigsaw (played by Dominick West) is the shitty cousin of The Joker from “The Dark Knight”. Stevenson can be good in limited roles where he’s not the lead, and in this film he’s mediocre at best. A lot of people were excited that a woman was directing this! It’s much like the press revolving around “The Hurt Locker”, a woman directing a war film. Who cares? Do you think Bigelow is appreciative of all the gender based talk around her directing the film (although she plays it well and loves the attention)? What a badass chick to direct a “Punisher” film! The bottom line is it wouldn’t have mattered who directed this film. It’s garbage.

Review: 5/10