Review: Brains would do brawn some good in ‘Expendables 3’

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
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“The Expendables” movies are a retirement home for aging action stars, a place where they can ruminate on their mortality both on-screen and off. There’s a reflectivity in these films in which the characters mirror the actors who play them and vice-versa; when Arnold Schwarzenegger says, “I’m getting out of this business and so should you,” to Sylvester Stallone in the series’ latest installment, “The Expendables 3,” you can’t tell if they’re talking to each other as characters or as two ’80s icons having a real life heart-to-heart. (Stallone’s stoic reply to Arnie: “Not yet.”)

The problem with the “Expendables” films is they’ve never been as fun as they should be. They collect a dream team of pumped-up action legends but aren’t quite sure what to do with them. Inevitably, they end up in bombed-out buildings in some far-off country, blowing up a bunch of stuff. That’s what happens in “The Expendables 3,” which, in addition to series regulars Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Terry Crews and Dolph Lundgren, adds Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Antonio Banderas to the mix.

Snipes, off the big screen for the better part of the last decade, is especially lively, his wiry eyes dancing around the screen. He plays an ex-Expendable named Doc who’s just been sprung from prison; when asked what charges he was sent away on, he replies with a sly grin, “Tax evasion.” (Snipes himself did three years in federal prison on a tax bid.)

But with a cast already the size of “The Avengers” and the “Fast and Furious” movies combined, “The Expendables 3” makes the unwise decision to add even more characters to the mix, as Stallone’s Barney recruits a team of young go-hards (including “Twilight’s” Kellan Lutz and UFC fighter Ronda Rousey) to become the next-generation Expendables. It’s a move that makes screen time even more of a dogfight, and after his lofty introduction, Snipes unfortunately disappears for the majority of the movie while the newbies take center stage.

Other stars pop up in what amount to small vignettes. Gibson is the villain, Stonebanks, an ex-Expendable who is now a smarmy international arms dealer (Gibson wears smarmy well these days), and Ford is a stodgy government operative who gets to loosen his tie and go for one more ride with his thrill-seeker pals (Ford wears stodgy well these days). The always cool Banderas plays against type as an overly eager-to-please assassin who just wants to be one of the guys; with his muttered speech and vocal tics, he plays the role like Seth Rogen might, to mixed results.

Things go kaboom as the guys chase Stonebanks through Bucharest, but “The Expendables 3” is mostly a movie about age and aging, as screenwriter Stallone closes in on 70. There’s a lot of talk in the movie about hanging things up, but this gang of toughs deserves at least one more shot to finally get things right. Individually, the cast members have done it all, and “The Expendables” series deserves a movie as muscular as its stars. For now, “The Expendables 3” isn’t it.

‘The Expendables 3’


Rated PG-13

for violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language

Running time: 126 minutes

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