Comic-book readers know well that the most tiresome issues tend to be the all-star packages: incoherent, overreaching extravaganzas that collect an assortment of different heroes and/or villains, thereby ensuring that each fan favorite will wind up seeming marginalized. Nothing if not a live-action comic book, The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone’s self-serving homage to lunkheaded, big-bicepped ’80s action movies, falls into the very same trap. In addition to Sly himself, you get Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Hong Kong’s Jet Li, relative newcomer Jason Statham, athletes Randy Couture and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin—hell, even quick cameos from Bruce Willis and the governor of California! And by the time this hypercaffeinated ode to carnage has concluded, you’ll be longing for even a mediocre flick starring any single one of ’em.
As you’d expect, the Expendables are a team of take-no-prisoners mercenaries, hired in this instance to take out a generic South American military baddie (David Zayas), albeit not so much for money or honor as to save the soul of his conveniently pure and insanely hot daughter (Giselle Itié). Their plan involves long stretches of tedious horseplay in which the members of the gang flex their muscles at each other while trading bad faux-’80s insults, interspersed with combat sequences so ludicrously over-the-top that Sonny Corleone’s death in The Godfather seems like a model of restraint by comparison. But even the latter, while occasionally amusing in their more outré touches—Jet Li practically decapitates henchmen with his feet—amount to nothing more than random noise. Like most overstuffed movies, it winds up feeling empty.