In 2010, Sylvester Stallone created the mother of all goofy teasers in “The Expendables,” packing every over-the-top action star into one movie like they were Pokémon; You have to catch them all. Since then, our favorite monuments to manhood have come and gone, but still the Expendables persist whether we want them to or not. Exactly nine years after “The Expendables 3,” we’re treated to a movie confusingly titled “Expend4bles,” in which Stallone returns to the cockpit with his trusty Jason Statham shotgun.
Former stuntman and stunt coordinator Scott Waugh, who directed “Need for Speed,” is directing this latest iteration, which, like every other thrilling action franchise, concerns a team of easily expendable bad guys who undertake various undercover missions. This movie is built on digital blood splatter, bootleg CGI, and genital jokes, but the motivation behind these movies is nostalgia for the retro action movies of the 1980s and ’90s, when men were brawny and misogyny was cool. everyone – this is the kind of image presented to us in the extremely ridiculous movie “Expend4bles”, which at least borders on self-parody.
Waugh and cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones give the film a glossy, cartoonish look, while writers Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart and Max Adams deliver corny one-liners (Spenser Cohen contributed the story and Dave Callaham contributed the characters). This is especially evident in the opening missions, where Barney Ross (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Statham) and the rest of the Expendables crew attempt to retrieve a set of nuclear detonators from Rahmat (Iko Uwais), a cunning thief. They stole them from Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Libya.
The action is messy, geography is indistinguishable, and several shots appear to have been stitched together by a single pixel and a prayer. As Noel cackles atop an SUV while wielding a .50-caliber gun, he looks like he was shot with rear projection, so shoddy is the green screen work. The scene is so incredibly bad and incredibly weird that one has to laugh in disbelief.
But this is far preferable to the rest of the film, which becomes mind-numbingly boring. Stallone leaves and Gina (Megan Fox) takes over leadership of the Expendables, but Fox seems extremely disinterested in the whole affair. Maybe because the job requires Gina to HALO jump and fight bad guys in a crop top, full glam, and surprisingly long and clunky hair extensions.
In 2023, when even Hayley Atwell wore her hair into a ponytail for the big action scene in “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” the look was ridiculously impractical, and you could barely see Fox holding back an eye roll. Even though she’s moved away from her role as the object of lust in “Transformers,” it’s strange that she’s returning to another testosterone-fueled action movie that has little to do but admire her. This isn’t Fox’s fault, but rather the filmmakers who couldn’t imagine anything more for him, offering up a few lines detailing the plot, even though he’s ostensibly in charge of this mission.
Gina’s team now needs to recover the same set of nuclear detonators from a container ship bound for Vladivostok. But they are quickly imprisoned by Rahmat’s henchmen, and they spend most of the film standing in a small room or wandering around the ship dealing corny punchlines. Christmas is excluded from this mission for a minor infraction, but he boards the ship anyway, and thankfully he’s seemingly the only Expendable with any pep in his step.
“Expend4bles” is Statham’s show, but is it really the show he wants to star in? While Fox appears to be out of his mind by sarcastically delivering each line, he himself goes through the motions expertly. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson is also there. Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren are the other two original cast members to return, while Jacob Scipio and Levy Tran round out the cast as Galan and Lash, respectively.
Even two of the most reliable names in action movies like legendary martial artists Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa can’t help “Expend4bles” take off. Uwais growls threats over the radio for most of the film, only getting one fight scene at the end (wasting Iko Uwais is an action cinema crime). Jaa spices things up a bit, and a real spark of potential emerges when this movie briefly flirts with being a martial arts movie.
But Waugh doesn’t take advantage of what he has to work with. “Expend4dbles” wants to be the kind of movie best watched during commercial breaks or on worn-out VHS tapes, but there are much more entertaining action classics that can get the job done — no need to be so tired, team.
“Expend4bles” — 1.5 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: R (for significant/gory violence, language, and sexual material)
Running time: 1:43
How to watch: In theaters September 22