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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Expend4bles: Review

Muscular and magnetic action heroes Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham embark on a new mission with a fresh-faced team in “Expend4bles” (yes, that is seriously the title for the fourth “Expendables” movie).

You would not be alone in wondering why Expend4bles even exists. The original “Expendables” was lauded as a marquee event when it hit theaters in 2010. Jam-packed with a who’s who of machismo icons, such as Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li and “Stone Cold” Steven Austin, “Expendables” delivered an Avengers-esque ensemble for diehard action film fans. The film may have been aggressively average, but it still offered a tantalizing proposal that entranced many action fans searching for brawls and bullet-ridden shootouts.

Since then, the “Expendables” franchise remains stuck in the morass of an identity crisis. 2012’s “Expendables 2” actually delivered the campy camaraderie and blood-soaked carnage that the original promised, yet dwindling box office returns left studios and creatives searching for a fresh pivot point. 2014’s “Expendables 3” supplied that stark contrast — a relatively tame PG-13 blockbuster driven by the appeal of its younger cast. This approach flopped spectacularly, failing to appeal to a younger demographic while alienating the tried and true fans of 80s action films.

Nine years later, “Expend4bles” stumbles into theaters with little fanfare. While Stallone and Statham make their return, they are surrounded this time by a range of pop culture has-beens (50 Cent, Megan Fox and Randy Couture) and unheralded character actors. This fact makes “Expend4bles” come across as the shoddy and disposable direct-to-video ripoff of its high-profile predecessors.

Shockingly enough, shoddy and disposable translate into endearing positives in this low-rent yet gleefully absent-minded sequel. What “Expend4bles” lacks in technical polish and narrative competency, it readily makes up for in its endless embrace of cheesy entertainment.

I would struggle to describe “Expend4bles” as an accomplished film. That said, I would also say that is the case for most 80s action films. For every indelible classic, like “Terminator” or “Commando,” the icons of that era would haphazardly slap together a half dozen low-rent vehicles designed to cash in a quick buck. Even the action stars of today follow the same model (just look at Liam Neeson’s IMDB page).

What differentiates “Expend4bles” from piles of similarly disposable features is the spirit behind the film. The cast and crew here wear a B-movie identity as a badge of honor, playing into the shlock by pushing the boundaries of plausibility at every turn. Director Scott Waugh’s action setpieces epitomize this approach. His use of ghastly, Xbox 360-esque CGI generates bewilderment at first glance, but Waugh discovers inspiration in these confines by concocting equally unhinged and implausible action numbers. Whether characters are escaping a nuclear fallout in mere minutes or faking their death outlandishly, each setpiece bursts with deliciously dopey moments.

The cast also deserves praise for understanding the film’s distinctive alchemy. Stallone and Statham remain a joy to watch onscreen, with their mentor-mentee relationship as Barney Ross and Lee Christmas providing a sturdy foundation to ground the chaos. The duo constantly snipe crass barbs and grandstanding sentiments at each other, yet their well-oiled chemistry always finds a sliver of humanity within this overly machismo dynamic. 50 Cent, Megan Fox, Dolph Lundgren and Tony Jaa also exude personality in their colorful supporting roles, while Andy Garcia and “Raid: Redemption” star Iko Uwais demonstrate proper menace as mustache-twirling villains.

“Expendb4les” will certainly not go down as a cult classic. The narrative is tepid in its formulaic design and negates a surprisingly impactful first-act twist. The action beats are cheeky and enjoyable, although they often lack the stylistic flair that elevates similar titles to a higher pedestal. It all adds up to a weightless experience that audiences will forget seconds after the credits roll.

For what it is, though, “Expendb4les” delivers the brawn and mindless mayhem action fans crave. Just don’t go in expecting Shakespeare.


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