There's a fun scene early on in The Expendables where director and action movie legend Sylvester Stallone has a conversation with fellow superstars Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Given that these three action icons were also once in business together as co-founders of the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain, it's a treat to see the trio trading macho barbs together on screen for the first time; the funniest line of the movie comes in response to Schwarzenegger's exit.
The scene is short-lived though, and Stallone's two buddies never appear onscreen again after that three-minute cameo. Of course, The Expendables boasts plenty of other action stars: Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, football star Terry Crews, and pro wrestlers "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Randy Couture. With the notable exceptions of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Segal, and Chuck Norris, the movie is a veritable Who's Who of top action heroes from the past 30 years.
Unfortunately, there's not much to The Expendables beyond its gimmicky casting. The story is little more than an R-rated version of The A-Team and The Dirty Dozen, and the overall quality is closer to a direct-to-DVD release than a summer movie blockbuster.
The film features a specialized team of mercenaries sent to do covert missions that the U.S. government is afraid to touch. At the start of the movie, they're rescuing the crew of a cargo freighter held hostage by terrorist-pirates at sea. But with Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Statham), and company armed to the teeth, the baddies don't stand a chance.
Soon after, a CIA agent (Willis) offers Stallone another job: Infiltrate the (fictional) South American island of Vilena and interrupt the country's drug trade by overthrowing the country's evil dictator and his army. Ross and Christmas arrive undercover and meet their contact Sandra (Giselle Itié), the dictator's daughter (and eventually the damsel in distress). Our heroes decide they're in over their heads with this assignment, but soon change their minds once they learn of Sandra's capture and are attacked at home by James Monroe (Eric Roberts, born to play bad guys), an ex-CIA mercenary and the one pulling the puppet dictator's strings.
There's not much else to the plot (aside from a hackneyed side-story involving Christmas' girlfriend and her abusive new beau), but no one's expecting Shakespeare here, right? The Expendables is overflowing with testosterone and machismo, from the classic rock soundtrack and the corny one-liners to the bulging biceps and extensive tattoos. And it's obvious from the character names—Lee Christmas, Ying Yang (Li), Hale Caesar (Crews), Tool (Mickey Rourke), and heck, James Monroe for that matter—that we're not meant to take any of this seriously.
Admittedly, it's fun to see this aging cast together on screen. Stallone, Statham, and Li all do their usual shtick, as does Lundgren in his portrayal of the drug-addicted, slightly psychopathic team member Gunnar Jensen. Roberts channels every smarmy bad guy cliché from the '80s in a performance that's part George Clooney and part Gordon Gekko. And Rourke actually stands out in a role that Robert Duvall typically plays—the sagely retired shop owner who once fought alongside the main character.