Review: ‘The Expendables 3’ Suggests That Too Many Action Stars Spoil the Broth

'The Expendables 3'
‘The Expendables 3’

I’m sorry, but as I was watching The Expendables 3, I kept thinking, ‘This is the guy they hired to direct the remake of The Raid?’

Patrick Hughes previously made the well-regarded horror thriller Red Hill, which I haven’t seen yet, but between those positive notices and the notion that he would be helming the remake of one of the best action movies in years, I was intensely curious to see what he would make of the third installment in this modern series that is dominated by lead actor, co-writer, and director Sylvester Stallone.

Stallone established the series’ tone with the first installment, which he re-wrote and directed. The idea of a franchise that is built on the idea of older mercenaries who are past their prime, yet still fully capable of kicking butt and not bothering to take names — mostly because they are often played by former action stars — is immensely appealing worldwide, as demonstrated by box office receipts for the first two movies in the series. Both films tapped more into nostalgia for the 1980s than creativity, yet got by on their vim and vigor, resulting in experiences that were agreeable, even as they were inarguably inferior to the best action thrillers of the 80s, 90s, 00s, or the present day.

Having handed over the directorial reins to Simon West for the first sequel, it makes sense that a newer director be given the opportunity to show his action filmmaking credentials. And while three or four individual shots outside of the action sequences are clever and/or memorable, the fighting and running and jumping and shooting and knifing and blowing stuff up scenes look … just like every other crappy action movie of the modern era, snipped by credited film editors Sean Albertson and Paul Harb into a dizzying, unholy, messy, dispiriting hash.

As always with these kind of situations, on a movie with an incredible 19 producers credited, I’m not sure who is ultimately responsible for what emerges on screen. I just know it’s not very pretty to watch.

Between the action sequences, the drama, such as it is, plays out. Stallone is credited with the story, and receives screenplay credit along with Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt. The basic idea is that Barney Ross (Stallone), the leader of the Expendables, decides to dissolve the group after he learns that the group’s co-founder Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), is still alive. Years before, Stonebranks was presumed dead, but he survived and has become an extremely wealth and extremely evil arms dealer.

When Gibson is given something to do, he’s as electrifying and/or as funny as possible, proving himself a worthy opponent for Stallone. Unfortunately, much of the non-action storytelling is given over to the silly idea that Barney Ross would ditch his old buddies because he thinks taking down Stonebanks will be a life or death mission, and he wants to protect his friends. Evidently, he’s forgotten that they are mercenaries and therefore are perfectly happy to risk their lives for money.

Eventually, of course, the old Expendables — Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Wesley Snipes — and the new Expendables — Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, and Kellan Lutz — insult each other before teaming up in action sequences that are dreary in their routine execution and almost entirely indecipherable. Antonio Banderas shows up to provide some comic spark, as does Kelsey Grammer for some reason, and if you’ve avoided the marketing entirely, other veteran action stars pop up for “surprise” cameos that mostly just extend the running time.

Buffeted by more computer-aided effects than before, The Expendables 3 is ambitious for reasons that are not readily apparent, beyond the fact that every hero in the movie is a mercenary who’s willing to work for no money in order to kill someone that (practically) none of them know. For a dumb series that I’ve enjoyed in the past, the third installment proves to be a big letdown.

The film opens wide in theaters throughout Dallas and Ft. Worth on Friday, August 15.

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