The Expendables 3 (2014)
126 min., rated PG-13.
The novelty of expanding upon the roster of iconic, manly-man action stars of the '80s and '90s with younger, emerging ones has grown more than a little arthritic. If 2010's "The Expendables" was more fun in theory and 2012's "The Expendables 2" topped its predecessor by embracing its mindless existence with a knowing, pretension-free sense of humor, then "The Expendables 3" has less of the first one's self-seriousness and less of the sequel's winking cheekiness. Even by the lax standards of an explosive, old-school action shoot-'em-up with so many kick-ass has-beens, it's too generic and not very fun to see what the hurry and fuss were all about in making another. Anyone knowing what to expect from the seventeen names on the poster will still be wishing "The Expendables 3" were better when the finished product is over. Though this critic-proof junk has no business to work a third time, the viewer already knows whether he or she is in or out, like "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Step Up All In" (okay, any of the "Step Up" movies really).
First order of business, head mercenary Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leads his band of Expendables—Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews)—to infiltrate an armored prison train. They break out Doc (Wesley Snipes), a self-described "medical genius" with an Expendables tattoo who has been incarcerated for 8 years. Onto the crew's next mission in Somalia, Barney discovers arms dealer Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) was only thought to be dead, as he's very much alive and has gone "dark." When one of the Expendables is shot and nearly killed, it's at the hospital where Barney is told by CIA officer Max Drummer (Harrison Ford) that Stonebanks needs to be taken down. Deciding to retire the old-timers, he finds help from retired Expendable Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) to recruit a new team of youngsters across the states.
Looking more weathered with each movie on-screen as team leader Barney, Sylvester Stallone lets director Patrick Hughes take a swing. Delivering on the bread and butter of the action genre, "The Expendables 3" entertains once in a while on a junky, brain-dead level, but the rest of the time, it's wearisome and you'll be checking your watch. It's almost mind-boggling how much time is spent on the characters (a term to be used lightly here) having downtime and explaining their feelings, and then they get back to firing their weapons and exploding off of docks away from a bomb, always being within an inch of their lives. It's a given, but plot and character are not exactly the order of the day, considering the former and latter are reduced to a bunch of ho-hum globe-trotting missions and a gym-class roll call of names right out of the Muppets. When Barney lets his old team go, the film actually hits the beats of a romantic comedy's temporary break-up probably without any irony that one almost expects Nazareth's "Love Hurts" to chime in. For dialogue, every line is a sarcastic "witticism" that couldn't be lamer if it tried, and yet the screenplay took Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt (2013's "Olympus Has Fallen") to come up with.
There's really no reason to break down any of the performances. Each of them get a line or a punch to call their own, but the entire unit feels uninspired in these perfunctory roles flattened to token has-beens. As one of the youngsters points out, they all look like "a bunch of has-beens just trying to be hard." Stallone tries to convey a friendship with Jason Statham, as Lee Christmas, based on wisecracks. Arnold Schwarzenegger, puffing on a cigar as always, and Jet Li make worthless returns as Trench and Yin Yang (seriously), as there's never enough of them. It is nice to see Wesley Snipes being relevant again, snapping a joke about tax evasion, and having not lost his moves (at least seemingly when a stunt double doesn't take his place), but his time on screen gets sidelined after his prison rescue. Harrison Ford does his thing, trying to convince us that we're having a better time than we are with, "That's the most fun I've had in years," but you won't stand for it. Mel Gibson might be having the most fun as the despicable, threatening heavy Conrad Stonebanks, and same goes for a caffeinated Antonio Banderas who instills the film with a manic, youthful (yes, youthful) energy as an excitable crew member. As for the younger additions, there's Glen Powell, as thrill-seeking mountain climber/computer hacker Thorn; pro boxer Victor Ortiz, as boxer Mars; MMA fighter Ronda Rousey as tough bouncer Luna; and Kellan Lutz as authority-hating fighter/biker Smilee. None of the newbies are allowed the time to make much of an impression, except for maybe Rousey in the worst way. She can scowl with attitude and kick the spit out of any man, but when she has to actually, you know, act and emote (which is rare), it's hard to watch.
For a $90-million Hollywood movie, "The Expendables 3" was not worth it. Between each overblown action set-piece and CG'ed explosions that don't evoke much of a visceral thrill, establishing shots are made up of obvious, grainy stock footage of a hospital or shipyard, and one scene with rear projection is bargain-basement level filmmaking. Opting for a PG-13 rating after both R-rated predecessors, producer Stallone reportedly wanted to appeal to a broader audience, so a few trimmings in the violence were in order. What good is a PG-13 "Expendables" movie anyway? That's one of the problems right there. The film should have been the most unapologetic it could be by appealing to its target audience and just going for it in lieu of attempting to find crossover appeal and being chopped at the knees with a watered-down PG-13. As so, "The Expendables 3" feels like a warmed-over nonstarter, and before we even get to the big climactic showdown between Barney and Stonebanks, the experience is already numbing and noticeably overlong. It should be a blast, but the reality of it is like blasting away all potential opportunities.