There stood their names, 20 feet tall: Stallone. Li. Statham. Grammer. Snipes. Schwarzenegger…wait. Back up a few. Grammer? Kelsey Grammer?
That’s when my hopes for a franchise in its death throes were renewed. Maybe we would finally get the chance to see Frasier lay the smackdown on Rocky and the Terminator, as the gods of 80s and 90s action never intended. Alas, it isn’t meant to be.
Grammer works as the on-screen casting director of The Expendables 3, an intelligence operative who finds a bevy of younger, one-lining toughs to replace Sylvester Stallone’s rag-tag mercenary outfit of older heroes as they set out to assassinate an arms dealer. Needless to say, nothing goes as planned, and old and young eventually have to work together.
While I never truly anticipated seeing Grammer throw down, it’s a disappointment that so many of the names advertised are barely in the movie. I expected not to see much of Schwarzenegger or Harrison Ford. Arnold chews through all of his best catchphrases from other movies – and I do mean ALL of them – in about 10 minutes, while Ford alternates between downright feisty and like you just caught him sleepwalking.
What isn’t expected is that franchise regulars pumped up in the advertising, like Jet Li and Terry Crews, only appear in glorified cameos. Jason Statham gets a lot of screen time – he has the best chemistry with Stallone – but he’s pushed to the side most of the film, as are Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture. Replacing them are Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes. While they’re both riots in their scenes, it’s disconcerting that the comic relief is chiefly left to the Hispanic and African-American characters. In particular, Snipes’s routine most closely echoes Robert Downey Jr.’s satirical blackface performance in Tropic Thunder. It feels like too much of a “down-home” put-on for an actor who’s proved he’s capable of so much more.
As fellow critic Justine Baron points out, it’s also odd that Snipes joins the team just as Crews is laid up. Is there only room for one black action hero at a time? We barely get to see them share the screen together.
That youthful team that Grammer helps Stallone recruit? It’s not strong on the acting chops, though Kellan Lutz is very likeable. One person makes up for it, however, and that’s mixed martial arts star Ronda Rousey.
For an 80s-style actioner, the film gets bogged down most when it’s just lines of people shooting at each other. Throw in a car chase or some hand-to-hand combat, however, and the movie energizes. Snipes and Jason Statham, the only other two actors with truly extensive martial arts training, each have their moments (MMA star Victor Ortiz co-stars, but is largely left off the screen). Yet it’s Rousey whose fistfights own the screen. Her punches are the only thing more painful than her dialogue, but in a movie like this, the punches matter more. It’s to the film’s credit that it allows Rousey to be the toughest actor up there, where other movies might shy away from having her outshine the men.
As for the villain, how do you solve a problem like Mel Gibson? The guy’s a legend on-screen, but a disaster off of it. He acts circles around everyone else involved in this, but when the inevitable throwdown with Stallone happens, it’s difficult not to recall that these are the two actors in this whole thing who’ve had major domestic abuse issues. I’m trying hard not to judge – they both had rough upbringings which themselves may have included abuse, but our awareness of these facts marks how differently we watch movies today than we did back when Stallone and Gibson together would’ve guaranteed the biggest movie of the summer. Truth be told, I’m out of words after addressing what happened to my friend last week.
That’s a lot of issues in one movie and I haven’t even mentioned the plastic-looking visual effects, but I’d still give it a light recommendation. Gibson and Banderas carry the dialogue, Rousey and Stallone carry the action. Everyone else is just passing through.
It’s not for everybody, but if you’re at all a fan of the action franchises like Rambo, Blade, and The Transporter that helped get these actors here, you should enjoy it. Guardians of the Galaxy remains by far the best blow-em-up for your buck in theaters, but this Expendables hits the spot if you’re looking for something a little more traditional.
The Expendables 3 is rated PG-13 for violence and language, though it’s on the harder side of that rating.