Everyone’s been to that party, right? Somebody tells a joke; it comes across well enough. The audience laughs. While the laughter politely continues, the punchline is repeated somewhere within the din, as if to reassure all involved the joke has been received completely and a shared experience appreciated. And just as the moment has passed with exactly the amount of attention such drollery merits, and a new subject or topic is about to be introduced after the final chuckles settle, the original wit-ster explains the joke. The audience clears their throats and cast their glances down. “Who needs a drink?” someone helpfully asks. Everyone does, because they sat through the third mention of a joke, rendered directly into a painfully awkward scenario. Welcome to The Expendables 3.
Sly Stallone’s original love letter to his fellow senior action stars, 2010’s The Expendables—while by no means a good movie—was at least a happy little confection, a novelty worth notice by virtue of its intentionally obsolete machismo-drenched 1980s violence, populated by pretty much every actor to have starred in one of those. It was a bit over-stuffed with self-referential moments, sure, but it did demonstrate there was a working brain behind the two hours’ worth of bloody, clichéd action. In 2012, Expendables 2 coasted along on the remaining fumes of mild goodwill, delivering more of the same.
Now, it’s 2014, and the third iteration has arrived, working itself into such a lather in its attempt to resuscitate the momentum that one can practically smell the flop sweat. The movie begins with Sly and his band of aged HGH repositories busting another old teammate, Doc (Snipes), out of a prison transport. And this by itself would have been a fun wink to the audience … until the dialog won’t stop stepping on the joke, to the point of Snipes’ character cheekily telling Christmas (Statham) he went away for tax evasion! ARE YOU LAUGHING YET?, the movie demands immediately. What follows is, essentially, a feature-length, cringe-worthy bid amidst the pummeling meta-jokes for continued viability as a franchise: Barney (Stallone) comes up against his former partner-turned-evil-arms-dealer, Stonebanks (Mel Gibson—GET IT?!), and decides to ditch his old comrades, for their safety, in favor or a new generation scouted out by Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer, doing … what here, exactly?) for their near-suicidal approaches to mercenary work. (There’s an unintentional joke here, to go along with the injection of the young cast members: So concerned are the filmmakers and studio with squeezing the udder purple that this second sequel has been edited down to a toothless PG-13, with a endless series of quick cuts away from the blood and guts of another two hours of impossibly high body count.)
While the first two Expendables were—of course—created primarily as products, there was at least the impression Sly and Company were having a fun time reveling in their glory years and committing it to film, all in a package that mildly riffed on the form with which they made their careers. This time around, however, the there’s nothing to see beyond the hysterical desperation of Antonio Banderas monologuing to back seats, and Schwarzenegger not once—but twice—exclaiming, “GET TO DE CHOPPA!”
Joke’s way over, guys, and everyone’s now uncomfortable, thanks. Now, who needs a drink…?
Director: Patrick Hughes
Writers: Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, David Callaham
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas… Oh, for the… just look the rest up yourself.
Release Date: Aug. 15th, 2014
Scott Wold is a Chicago-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter, if you must.