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‘Expendables 4’ (review)

The Expendables has always been a series that was better in concept than execution.

Stallone envisioned it as both a reunion tour for the great action stars of the 80’s, and a symbolic passing of the torch to a new group of action stars who could ride the momentum of the movie into new films of their own.

You will recall this was pitched in the afterglow of Rocky Balboa and Rambo 4 when it seemed that Stallone could do no wrong.

What we got was Stallone and Statham taking on Eric Roberts and Stone Cold Steve Austin with a lot of extended cameos of the guys we actually wanted to see.

The second film came out during a small renaissance of Jean-Claude Van Damme as an actor, and he’s the only worthwhile thing in that film.

Likewise, the third film is a great opener and Mel Gibson giving an incredible performance and nothing else.

So I don’t blame anyone for laughing when I went to see Expendables 4 on opening night.

After all: fool me once, shame on you, fool me four times…

Several factors intrigued me though: Director Scott Waugh had directed the Jackie Chan/John Cena vehicle Hidden Strike which I heartily enjoyed, and I thought it really reflected a knowledge of why Jackie Chan works as an action star.

Also, Iko Uwais (The Raid series, The Night Comes for Us) and Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak series, SPL 2) would be featured players in this installment. Two of the most exciting martial arts stars in contemporary cinema directed by a guy with a clear understanding of the genre?

Had to give it a shot.

The results are mixed: Expendables 4 represents a clear improvement over the previous installments in terms of giving each character something to do, and providing some top shelf gun play, Iko Uwais is the major villain for most of the picture and he gives the story a real sense of danger with how capable he is.

However, the “comedic” interplay between the team members has never been worse and the decision to put Megan Fox’s character front and center strains credibility. Worst of all, the gun play is great but the hand-to-hand action is all over cut and zoomed in on meaning that even when Iko and Tony Jaa are allowed to go ham (and both are given some great fights), you don’t even get to really enjoy it.

The script is going for a “new generation” vibe: several regulars are out, there’s a bunch of new additions and the leadership torch gets passed.

Unfortunately, the script can’t commit to any decision and brings back the series’ annoying penchant for resurrecting characters whenever it is narratively convenient.

The smaller team and new additions should make an emphasis on character development easier, but it’s just shocking how little command the script has of the kind of comedy beats you find in Cannon Films productions.  Every joke lands flat and the editor doesn’t give a single one the right timing, even bits that could’ve been theoretically funny have their audio dumped or cut away from.

The action set pieces are there: anything with scope and scale is a blast (pun intended) and Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa are both given extended sequences to go off and do what they do best– Iko especially gets a late knife fight that has flashes of the lightning speed and merciless choreographed violence that he brought to The Raid but this film lets the guys down the same way WB’s recent Mortal Kombat reboot let down Hiroyuki Sanada and Joe Taslim: no script, no grit, no authenticity.

Not recommended.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Kevin King-Templeton, Les Weldon, Yariv Lerner, Jason Statham
Story by Spenser Cohen, Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart
Screenplay by Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart, Max Adams
Based on Characters by David Callaham
Directed by Scott Waugh
Starring Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Megan Fox,
Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Randy Couture, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran, Andy García


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