Mucking with Movies: ‘Exp4ndables’

A Lame Celebration of a Bygone Era

Jack Simon
Courtesy photo

The nonsensical title spelling is the worst part of “Expend4bles.” A 4 does not look like an A, the letter A has never looked like the number 4. Besides that, the script is actually very good, and the acting is more than serviceable, but it is the directing that is an absolute failure.

Like most studio blockbusters outside the Marvel incubator, there is a litany of writers listed in the credits for the movie. The team crafted layered lines, focusing on the self-awareness behind these aging stars. The poster tagline is even self-referential “They’ll Die When They’re Dead.” That’s funny! That’s funny and smart! It delivers the thesis of the film without giving too much away while simultaneously establishing the rules of indestructibility the film carries. It is an injection of fun that should have been an undercurrent for the entire film.

The best moments are when they’re goofing on themselves: Gunnar (Dolph Lundgren) brags about his vision prescription scope, Barney (Sylvester Stallone) moans about a bad back, and almost all of them wear dad hats at some point. The actors all stay within their pockets when it comes to their individual strengths. Megan Fox playing Gina should be noted as turning in a solid performance. I believe she’s always been underrated; she has a limited range, but the things she does do well are condescending, comedy, and declaring curiosity through her big, open-eyed stares.

If a script is strong and the actors are game, then usually the director chosen to helm the project has enough experience to bring home something at least mildly noteworthy. Director Scott Waugh continues to get the nod to direct massive blockbuster flicks because he can deliver these projects within budget, so that they can go on to make maximum profit. Nowhere in his filmography, though, has he provided any actual worthwhile work.

Once again in “Expend4bles,” his narrative arcs are flatter than a plank of wood. Everybody and everything stays about the same from beginning to end. The villains in particular are so undercooked that there is not a single reason to care about them. The bad guy needs to have enough provided to them, so that when they are finally taken down, the audience can hoot and holler for their hero. But, my fellow audience on this pretty well-attended Thursday showing either spent the night talking to their moviegoing partner or were quieter than a mouse’s fart throughout the one-hour and forty-three-minute runtime.

I got excited at first, too. The opening shots established an alluring yellow-to-red color palette, but that didn’t last long. The cinematography ends up veering all over the place, with most shots having a moot, blueish-black background that does nothing to entice the audience or bring out the best looks in the characters. Waugh was more deliverer of goods rather than a director.

These are the Last of the Mohicans when it comes to action stars; nobody is stepping into those shoes — it’s just not what works anymore. Comic book movie stars sign up for four to six picture contracts that are fulfilled before they spend the rest of their careers rolling around in their dough and cherry-picking artistic roles at their leisure. You can draw a line on actors who exist to stand atop Hollywood marquees from John Wayne to Bruce Lee, Harrison Ford to Patrick Swayze, and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Jason Statham, but it’s dead-ending with Dwayne Johnson who is already fifty-one.

Nobody who has been set up to be the next bankable action stud in the last decade has panned out. Ask Taylor Lautner how it went, check in on how Taylor Kitsch’s career is churning along, and go see where Chris Hemsworth is at. Scroll through the 2010s action movie Wikipedia, and find me a superstar outside of Fast & Furious and superhero franchises. Good luck, I’ll let you look forever.

An explicit decree in these movies is celebrating a style that may never return. I don’t know if we need it anymore, though. These movies had their moments, and I’m thrilled they did; I grew up on my dad’s DVD case ogling this style, but there’s no need to retread well-worn material. We don’t want generic white guys plugged in anymore; there’s too much good stuff out there. Something with genuine substance needs to be provided for an audience to be pleased.

The bar has been raised justifiably high, and “Expend4bles” falls below it.

Critic Score: 4.1/10

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