“The Expendables 3” is the movie equivalent of fast food, McDonald’s at the megaplex. If you’ve seen the first two “Expendables,” you know exactly what you’ll be getting with the third: a testosterone burger, heavy on the ketchup with a hefty helping of hot lead on the side.
It’s a triumph of stunt casting, an assemblage of aging action stars — Stallone! Schwarzenegger! Snipes! Gibson! Banderas! Ford! — relics, most of them, desperate to prove they’re still relevant in the now not-so-new century.
With Stallone’s and Schwarzenegger’s individual projects routinely tanking these days — “Sabotage” anyone? “Bullet to the Head”? Hey, where is everybody? — only “Expendables” movies, with their worldwide big box office grosses of several hundreds of million bucks each have returned them to something approaching their former glories.
So back they go, grabbing up big guns and ducking big explosions, blowing up buildings, blowing up helicopters, doing what they do because it seems they don’t know anything else they can do that audiences will want to see.
Stallone, the driving force behind these movies — he directed the first one and co-wrote all three — has turned them into reclamation projects, not only for himself but for Dolph Lundgren in the first one and Mel Gibson and Wesley Snipes in the current iteration. He figured fans would be curious to see Snipes back in the game after serving a three-year prison sentence for tax evasion. And as for Gibson, well he’s still viewed as a pariah for his highly publicized temper tantrums of a few years ago.
Snipes is given a big introductory close-up letting us know in no uncertain terms: He’s back! He’s also been given a tax-evasion one-liner (wink, wink). And Gibson is given a scene that has him saying, “You should see me when I’m angry. You’d be very impressed.” (Wink, wink, part deux.)
Stallone and director Patrick Hughes give audiences plenty of what they expect to see. Here’s Arnie, cackling happily as he blasts away with a humongous machine gun. Here’s Ford, grouching his way through yet another role, this time that of a CIA big shot. And here’s Stallone and Gibson, guns tossed aside, pounding each other to jelly with bare fists.
Gibson plays the bad guy, an arms dealer with an army of killers at his disposal who once was an Expendable but then went over to the dark side and now hates the Stallone character’s guts. Early on, he has Stallone in his gunsight, dead to rights, and then doesn’t shoot him. Which makes absolutely zero sense other than if he did, there would be no movie.
The picture’s plotting is lazy to the point of outright negligence. In two set-piece scenes, one at the beginning and the other near the end, Stallone’s squad of Expendables mercenaries practically stroll their way to raids on big bands of baddies, in broad daylight yet. Planning? Stealth? Who needs ‘em? They just go in, guns blazing, dropping hundreds of heavily armed extras who can’t seem to shoot straight to save their extraneous lives.
When a mission goes wrong and Stallone’s character feels obliged to fire his old crew and recruit a gaggle of younger guns, the newbies’ personalities are barely sketched. Then they’re quickly sidelined so that the old guys can ride to their rescue.
Predictable as the sunrise, all of it.