Faced with a scheduling conflict between an overdue root canal and “The Expendables 3,” duty called me to make the more painful choice: the screening.
Barney augments his team with new blood for a personal battle: to take down Conrad Stonebanks, the Expendables co-founder and notorious arms trader who is hell bent on wiping out Barney and every single one of his associates.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammer, Jason Statham.
Rating: PG-13 for violence, including intense gun battles, and for language.
In their third lamentable outing, Expendables chief Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) must augment his aging mercenary team with new blood in order to take down his former cohort — now ruthless international arms dealer — Stonebanks (Mel Gibson).
You thought Stoney was dispatched a decade or so ago? No such luck. He’s ba-a-a-ck, like “Elm Street’s” Freddy, and determined to wipe out Barney and his whole refurbished force, long-or-short-in-the-tooth alike.
That includes old-timer veterans like blade man Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), and Dr. Death (Wesley Snipes), plus MMA champ Ronda Rousey and boxer Victor Ortiz — newly recruited for perfunctory demos of their more photogenic skills.
It also includes such new additions of such old heroes as Harrison Ford (playing Barney’s CIA field-operations contact), Kelsey Grammer (as a mercenary consultant), and the legendary Governator — Arnold Schwarzenegger — as Barney’s old team rival, who magically appears when least expected and most needed.
It’s always fun to see Arnie in action, but his bloodshot eyes are worrisome: This time around — in air, on land and sea — he needs more Murine than Marine assistance.
Chief among the Reprehensibles for this “Expendables” is Mr. Stallone himself for picking husband-wife team Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt (based on their sole previous screenplay for “Olympus Has Fallen”) to write a script based on his own dubious story “concept,” then compounding that mistake by hiring Patrick Hughes — an Australian whose credits consist of TV commercials plus one low-budget western, “Red Hill” — to direct. Whatever Sly’s virtues may be, talent scout is not among them.
The resulting feature-film mess exhibits no trace/sense of time, place or space. Episodic establishing shots labeled “Moscow,” “Mogadishu,” ”Las Vegas,” “Bucharest,” etc., cut quickly to close-up confusion that could have been filmed just as darkly and badly in some Lompoc or Aliquippa basement. (The actual all-purpose location was Bulgaria.) Peter Menzies’ jerky, fragmented, seizure-inducing photography suits the editing recipe: Separate all footage into two big saucepans — close-ups of people firing weapons, long-shots of things blowing up — then mix and match to taste.
The acrobatic mayhem is purely preposterous. Despite their new summer and fall line of assault weapons, Mel’s malicious militia is wiped out by the dozens without ever managing to hit an Expendable. Actually, there’s a dearth of hard-core action — just two big opening and closing set pieces — to bracket a lot of mucking around in between. The whole first hour is devoted to recruiting the new team, with Sly’s growly, sloooow delivery of bad lines. The second hour indulges Mel’s long soliloquies and Skypes, taunting Sly — seasoned with wisecrackin’ Mr. Ford and Mr. Snipes’ snappy patter and Antonio Banderas’ equally unfunny comic attempts.
The first two “Expendables” took in half a billion dollars. But Mr. Stallone has said that a real “franchise” — like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell — depends on the third. Will his Expendables be extendable or suspendable? Box office receipts will tell.
All I know is that if there’s a fourth one, it will require aluminum walkers with chartreuse tennis balls on the front for its increasingly geriatric stars — and the challenge of finding new (old) ones to spice it up: Olivia de Havilland, Kirk Douglas …?
They worked hard here to get the PG-13 rating to draw in younger viewers. There’s not nearly enough gore to satisfy the basic R-audience bloodlust, just fireworks and noise — which you could just as well get down at the Point for a Zambelli display after a Pirates game. Even 13-year-olds have some aesthetic sense, don’t they? Any of ’em reading or listening out there? Tweens of the world, unite! Speak out! If you must have rubbish, tell ’em it should at least be stylish rubbish.
Mr. Gibson said he had a great time making the flick: “How often do you get a chance to just hang with the guys and blow a bunch of stuff up?”
This “Expendables” is not among the recommendables.
Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris: email@example.com.