Sylvester Stallone would like to fancy himself an auteur on the order of Clint Eastwood: a director/writer who happens to act and who, eventually, could step behind the camera full-time.
But as The Expendables shows, he is, at best, a journeyman filmmaker. He's capable of assembling a movie that is mildly coherent, but not one that engages the audience emotionally or intellectually. Instead, it's all about the big-bang theory: the bigger the bangs (explosions, gunshots, mammoth fireballs), the bigger the box-office. In theory, anyway.
Certainly, given its lineup of action stars aimed at all generations and nationalities, The Expendables should do pretty well overseas, where audiences subscribe to the more-is-more theory of action films. For all I know, there's an audience for it here as well. There certainly hasn't been an action film of this sort so far this summer.
Which doesn't mean it's a good movie, merely a serviceable one. Stallone wants The Expendables to be a valedictory, perhaps: a meditation on the way men of violence live their lives and live with themselves. But Unforgiven it ain't.
Neither is it The Wild Bunch nor The Dirty Dozen, two other titles that come to mind. It wants to be, but, again, there's not that much depth.
Stallone plays Barney Ross, leader of a crew of mercenaries, first glimpsed taking out a gang of Somali pirates on a freighter the raiders have held for three months. Stallone and friends show up with the money -- but it's not as much as the pirates asked for. When the pirates get chesty with Stallone and Co., bang, no more pirates.
Stallone's crew includes Jason Statham (the only character with much of a life outside the job, it seems -- or at least that we see), Jet Li, Randy Couture of UCF fame, Terry Crews and Dolph Lundgren. They have names like Toll Road, Hale Caesar, and Ying Yang -- apparently Stallone's idea of wit.
There's also Dolph Lundgren as a guy named Gunner (or, perhaps, Gunnar), but he's excommunicated from the group for disobeying orders and trying to hang one of the pirates. Stallone's posse hangs out at the combination garage/tattoo parlor belonging to a guy named Tool (Mickey Rourke), who gave up the mercenary life a number of years earlier. Apparently, he did it so he can deliver a blue-lit monologue about a moment in Bosnia when he could have saved his own soul and didn't, meant as a goad to Barney, who is having a similar quandary.