The Expendables ★★★½

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You have to give credit to old man Stallone, he always gives fans what they want. Even if doing that feels slightly cynical, as this 80s-flavoured violencefest does on occasion. After the spectacular Rambo, Sly goes for full old school overload here, assembling an allstar cast of favourite hasbeens and current wannabes then slotting them into a plot so paper-thin and corny it would make even Steven DeSouza snort with derision - crack team of mercenaries to go to Caribbean island and… er, shoot baddies and blow stuff up. That’s about it. Sly’s squad consists of luminaries Jason Statham, Jet Li, er… Dolph Lundgren... ahem… Terry Crews and Randy “Pumpkinhead” Couture. Mickey Rourke pops up here and there as a mechanic who dabbles in lightning fast tattooing (he completes a piece covering half of Sly’s back in about two minutes). Interesting look being trialled by Rourke here too, sort of a cross between a wrestler, an Indian chief and a fat George Hamilton. In keeping with the film’s self-deprecating tone, most of the characters have goofball names like Barney, Tool and Christmas. None of that Matrix or Cobra silliness here. As the dictator of the island, Eric Roberts chalks up his 658th consecutive career badguy role but never gets out of first gear as he sleepwalks his way along, aided by henchman Steve Austin who glowers like it’s going out of fashion. But let’s get to the real meat – the carnage. There’s a refreshing “shoot first asks questions later” policy on show, as dirtbags get perforated at the drop of a hat by Stallone’s customised sixguns or Statham’s customised throwing daggers (affectations, what affectations?). The explosions are of a scale to make Fat Man and Little Boy look underpowered, and in classic style there are some ridiculously big guns on show. Lundgren’s sawed-off blows a guy clean in half in the first few minutes, and Terry Crews lugs around an insane Blackwater automatic shotgun that destroys planets and is the craziest ballistic toy since Ol’ Painless in Predator. There’s also plenty of full-on hand to hand combat including a truly hilarious neck-snap that had me in fits, and Statham taking apart a bunch of jocks on a basketball court. In a fight, not a game of HORSE. Strangely, Jet Li does not deliver on this front. Homie looks old and weak now. But even with all the goodtime dismemberment, squibs and napalming, there is something missing. To me, there’s a feeling of everything being a bit too calculated, Sly ticking too many boxes to try and give us an 80s-gasm without inserting any real guts to the film. It feels a bit… slapdash and perhaps unbalanced, with the midsection sagging quite badly. And no, I’m not talking about Austin’s beer gut. That’s a small complaint in the grand scheme, as this is a good old time. But while I’m on a roll here’s another whinge - the much ballyhooed scene of Sly swapping quips with special guest stars Arnold and Bruce Willis feels ridiculous and forced, with a vague undercurrent of real dislike between the two big boys. It’s perhaps the biggest letdown of the film.