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Plot 'Expendable,' action isn't

Published August 18. 2010 05:00PM

One thing that's not expendable in "The Expendables" is the action.

And there's plenty of it in "The Expendables," which represents a return to the familiar territory of the "Rambo" series of action films for writer-director Sylvester Stallone.

What brings fans into the movie theater to see "The Expendables" is Stallone's gathering of nearly every action film star known to Hollywood.

This includes Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, although neither gets out of their street clothes and their inclusion amounts to cameos, in other words, a few minutes of screen time for each. Schwarzenegger's appearance prompts one of the movie's funniest lines. We won't play spoiler by repeating it.

While Mickey Rourke is in several scenes, he also doesn't join in the mayhem. Rourke again plays an eccentric, here, a pipe-smoking tattoo artist. He provides a semblance of sensitivity among the tumult. Big boys do cry.

The other action heroes get their due, with each often going mano a mano. Average-sized Jet Li is matched up with, or mismatched with, towering Dolph Lundgren.

Former World Wrestling Entertainment's "Stone Cold" Steve Austin has a go at it with Stallone.

Jason Statham seems to fight with everyone in his way.

Terry Crews seems to blow up everyone and everything in his way.

Eric Roberts, with the years giving his visage a nicely chiseled gravitas, is believable as a white-collar criminal fomenting the wrongdoing.

Giselle Itié is riveting as the daughter of the South American dictator.

Note to fans: published reports claim that Stallone offered parts in the film to Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Segal and Chuck Norris, who turned him down.

Stallone and Statham are at the center of the film, which presents them as a typical action film buddy duo. Each has issues, and their dialogue about relationships provides some of the film's best moments, which are a thankful respite from the violence.

"The Expendables" has relentless stylized video-game violence. The fight scenes are expertly crafted in cinematography, choreography and editing.

The plot in "The Expendables" is so basic as to be negligible. True to its 1980s' roots, the film is what used to be called high-concept: Stallone and his pals are paid to overthrow a South American dictator.

It's a matter of dirty deeds done, if not dirt cheap, then for a tidy sum of $5 million paid to Stallone and his mercenaries.

"The Expendables" has lots of interesting detail: the choppers (customized motorcycles) the action heroes drive, the circa 1956 Ford satin black customized pickup truck Stallone drives and a vintage seaplane (with a surprise) Stallone pilots, emblazoned, with beaucoup irony, with a logo for Global Wildlife Conservancy.

The film's dynamic opening scenes aboard an oil tanker ship, its crew taken hostage by pirates, is presented documentary style, with night vision filming adding to the heightened sense of reality.

Stallone co-wrote the profanity-laced screenplay with David Callaham ("Doom"), who wrote the story.

Classic rock songs (The Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands to Yourself"; Creedence Clearwater's "Keep on Chooglin'"; Mountain's "Mississippi Queen") kick-start scenes effectively.

"The Expendables" is "Rambo" reimagined, Rambo and buddies, retrofitted for the War on Terror in the New Millennium.

"The Expendables," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language; Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller: Run time: 1 hr., 43 min.; Distributed by Lionsgate.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Thin Lizzy's "The Boys are Back in Town" plays over the end credits.

Box Office, Aug. 13: It was a lucky weekend for Sylvester Stallone, as the action hero climbed back to No. 1, with "The Expendables," $35 million.

"Eat Pray Love" didn't have a prayer with the boys back in town. Still, the Julia Roberts' vehicle opened well at No. 2, with $23.7 million, her best in nearly a decade (America's Sweethearts," 2001). Ironically, "Eat Pray Love" pitted her against her brother, Eric, in "The Expendables."

The real action heroes were too much for "The Other Guys," dropping from No. 1 to No. 3, with $18 million and $70.5 million after two weeks.

4. "Inception," $11.3 million, $248.5 million, five weeks; 5. "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" proved no Atlas and is a bona fide bomb, opening with $10.5 million; 6. "Despicable Me," $6.7 million, $221.9 million, six weeks; 7. Step Up 3D," $6.6 million, $29.5 million, two weeks; 8. "Salt," $6.3 million, $103.5 million, four weeks; 9. "Dinner for Schmucks," $6.3 million, $58.8 million, three weeks; 10. "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore," $4 million, $35.1 million, three weeks

Unreel, Aug. 20:

"Lottery Ticket," PG-13: A lottery ticket worth $370 million must be protected from greedy friends in a comedy with Bow Wow, Mike Epps and Ice Cube.

"Nanny McPhee Returns," PG: In the comedy sequel, Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) helps a young mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) run the family farm.

"Piranha 3D," R: Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O'Connell and Richard Dreyfuss battle prehistoric piranhas in the horror film.

"The Switch," PG-13: Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman star in an improbable comedy about birth.

"Vampires Suck," PG-13: A spoof of vampire-themed moves.

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: pwillistein and on Facebook.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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