- Released Internationally on 11/08/10
- Released in Malta by KRS on 25/08/10
Preview (first published in VIDA magazine on 01/08/10)
In a nutshell
When I was a teenager, our local video rental store didn’t believe in organising shelves according to genre, or alphabetically. Instead, they had a Bruce Willis shelf, a Schwarzenegger shelf, a Stallone shelf, and so on. Genius, I thought. But they’d need at least three copies of this film.
Why we’re hyped
I doubt anyone is expecting any fine acting or mastery use of the English language here. But this promises to be bad, in a good way. If you feel like a couple of hours with a grin plastered across your face, feeling like you walked into a mechanic’s garage in the early 90s and are browsing the posters while he changes your oil, this might do the trick. The title refers to a group of highly-dangerous mercenaries who are assigned to overcome a South American dictator. Or something like that.
Who’s in it?
The cast list reads like a who’s who of action heroes from the past twenty to thirty years. Sylvester Stallone gets top billing since this was his idea and he partly wrote the screenplay, and directs. Jason Statham, who has recently been very busy with the Transporter and Crank films, is one of the newer action guys on the list. Jet Li (Romeo Must Die, Hero, Lethal Weapon 4) adds some martial arts expertise to the arsenal, and veteran wrestler Steve ‘Stone Cold’ Austin adds some brute strength. Reborn star Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2, The Wrestler) and Dolph Lundgren, the towering Swedish brick wall who shot to fame as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, are also on board. Schwarzenegger comes out of retirement to play a cameo role, in a scene with probably the most accomplished of the cast, the inimitable Bruce Willis. Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme were both offered roles, but allegedly turned them down. Pity. This promises to be what popcorn and big screens were made for.
Despite being exactly what the trailers offered, this film still managed to surprise me. Mainly because it's better than I expected it to be. I was ready for wall-to-wall action, but at the expense of any semblance of plot or acting. Yet, despite not being Shakespeare, the story and performances aren't all bad. The overall, cheeky, 'boys-having-fun' aura that pervades the film allows everyone to get away with murder (literally, on numerous occasions), and makes any inept acting or overblown clichés forgivable.
Clash of the titans
Stallone wisely feeds of the ensemble cast at every occasion. From the opening shots of the team arriving at their hangout on fancy motorbikes, it's clear that half the fun is simply having all these people on screen together. This feeling reaches boiling point during the much-anticipated cameo scene with Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. The two assemble in a church for a brief meeting with Stallone's character. Like much of the film, the scene is rather unnecessary and loosely scripted, but it's incredibly fun to watch. Shamelessly tongue-in-cheek, it works more as a parody of the trio's real-life personas and on-screen heroes, than as any part of this particular film. They're obviously having fun, and it's infectious.
Over the top
Elsewhere, the action is relentless. No larger on-screen body count comes to mind, if you exclude disaster movies, and there's enough gunfire, explosions and blood to keep even the most insatiable action-fan happy. The fun element is predominant once again, with enough clichés and exaggerations to remind us just how fun action films were in the 80s and 90s. There's no slow-motion stylized combat here - it's simply survival of the strongest. Stallone looks like a charred effigy of his former self, and his abused, weather-beaten expression and physique make him a rather unlikely hero when surrounded by the younger action stars on his team. Only Lundgren looks worse. Jet Li's martial arts potential isn't fully utilised, and his acting is painful to watch. Statham proves he is worthy of sharing the top billing, and he seems the most reliable of the pack. Eric Roberts is suitably slimy and assured as the main villain, and he manages to look the part wonderfully, just as he did recently as one of Batman's foes. Back at base, Mickey Rourke's character sits in his tattoo parlour spouting wisdom, and manages probably the best performance overall. Two lovely ladies try to add some delicate touches to the proceedings, but they never stood a chance of anything more than a token role in a film like this.
In the end
When the end title song kicks in, you'll realise just how perfectly it sums up what you've just enjoyed. Stallone manages to handle his impressive cast, and also reins the film in at just the right length. Rarely has any film better epitomized the concept of mindless action and fun, and if you're looking for nothing else, this film delivers.