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I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Friday, August 13, 2010

Movie Review: "The Expendables"

Directed By: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, David Zayas, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Charisma Carpenter, Giselle Itie
Three Stars

"The Expendables" is the new Sylvester Stallone barnstormer co-starring all of my favorite action heroes from the Wal-Mart DVD cutout bin. Drug lords and Latin American dictators, beware!

This is a shoot-em-up / blow-em-up extravaganza high on nostalgia for '80s action flicks starring many of the men responsible for them. It's one big enthusiastic nod to all of those movies where muscular tough guys shrugged off bullet wounds, made things explode by shooting at them, bedded hot babes to hard rock soundtracks and delivered pithy puns and one-liners the whole way.

Even in some snobby circles, most cinephiles are accepting of "The Terminator," "First Blood" and "Die Hard" (my personal favorite) as genuine classics, but this movie is more of a love letter to those of us who guiltlessly enjoyed "Commando," "Hard To Kill" and "Universal Soldier" as well.

The Expendables are a group of motorcycle riding, hard-living, aging mercenaries who'll take on any small army for the right price. Led by Barney Ross (Stallone, who generously gave all the cool action hero names to everyone else) and his right-hand man, knife-expert Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), the group includes big weapons man Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), drug-addled loose cannon Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) and hand-to-hand combat expert Ying Yang (Jet Li) -- wait, really, IMDB? His name is Ying Yang? -- the butt of an unending stream of short jokes and co-star of my favorite fight scene in the film. Mickey Rourke is in a few scenes as Tool, an ex-Expendable who now devotes his time to brokering their jobs out of his tattoo shop / headquarters.

A CIA operative summons Ross to a church, where he offers a job to either his team or his biggest competitor / most hated former ally. Did I mention said frenemy is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger? Or that Bruce Willis is said CIA man? Yes, Stallone wrangled his Planet Hollywood partners together for the first time onscreen for a welcome and well played extended cameo.

So what's the job? Take down a Latin American dictator (David Zayas) on a tiny, fictitious island and the rogue CIA agent turned drug dealer (Eric Roberts) who installed him. To do so, The Expendables will have to defeat an army, as well as Roberts' bodyguard - Stone Cold! Willis forgets to mention that the dictator has a hot, rebellious, soulful daughter (played by Giselle Itie, who is hotter than the Giselle you're thinking about), but why bother? I mean, of course he does.

Stallone directed, co-wrote, co-produced and of course stars in "The Expendables." And while he has the most screen time, he walks around with a warm smile that says, "man, this is a blast," and by golly if it isn't infectious. While far from a comedy, this movie doesn't take itself too seriously. And it's clear that every person involved is having a damn good time playing action hero together.

These guys are all still in great shape and take care of business. While cartoony on that action movie level, the stunts look and feel real. The movie doesn't use a bunch of fast cutting that obscures the action, opting instead for the kind of real life fight choreography that resulted in Stone Cold putting Sly in the hospital during production (much as Dolph had done to him in "Rocky IV").

Speaking of Dolph, he stole the show for me. Maybe because I loved him as the original "Punisher," grease paint five o' clock shadow and all, and opposite Brandon Lee in "Showdown in Little Tokyo." He may be having the most fun of all as the most reckless of the bunch. At one point, he calls someone a "cockroach" and a few minutes later, "insect." I hope he's ad-libbing. It felt like it!

The explosions are big, but these aren't Michael Bay explosions. Due to the overall tone of the movie, and probably the budget, these are sort of... Intimate explosions, if you will.

The dialog consists of quips, puns, threats, insults and the very occasional "emotional" diversion as Stallone and Statham (often hanging together) reveal some inner pain. I mean, what else do you want? There's a long monologue from Rourke in the movie that Stallone has said is the emotional anchor upon which the rest of the movie depends. I'd love to see the movie Rourke thought he was in, because he's at his Oscar worthy best for those few minutes (although, in full disclosure, it sure looks like he's reading the monologue from the piece of paper he's supposedly sketching on).

As a dedicated Buffyverse devotee, I have to mention that one of my major celebrity crushes, Charisma Carpenter, is not only in "The Expandables" as Statham's love interest, but she's scantily clad, to boot. This may be the first time I've mentioned something like this in a film review. But, I mean, it's "The Expendables." If I can't be A FULL BLOWN GUY when I talk about it, when can I be? (I'd feel tacky posting the picture I just looked at on my blog, but I'll link to it).

At the Comic-Con panel (which I covered for MTV), somebody asked Stallone if there were any action stars he wanted for this movie that he couldn't get. He said yes, mentioning Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris by name. He said some of them couldn't make it due to scheduling conflicts, while others couldn't make it due to "insanity." God, I love Sly!

To summarize, this movie is big, dumb fun. And if you walk in expecting nothing more, you'll have a blast. This isn't "The Bourne Identity" nor is it "Casino Royale." Nor should it be. It's "The Expendables," dammit! And it's a blast.

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