The Expendables: Sly and the Family Clones

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The Expendables starring Sylvester Stallone

A bunch of Somali pirates are behaving inhospitably to their captives when a bunch of heavily armed, massively muscled gents drop by and say, in so many words, Please don't. In the ensuing firefight, all the hostages are saved and all the bad guys die — one of them getting hit with a small nuclear device (actually an AA-12 auto-assault 12-gauge shotgun) that vaporizes him from the belt up. Chalk up another successful mercenary mission for the Expendables.

Sylvester Stallone must have salivated when he saw David Callaham's original script for The Expendables, which asks: What if the Over the Hill Gang just blew up the freakin' hill instead? What if the team's next assignment were Vilena, a Caribbean country headed by a military despot (David Zayas) but really run by a megalomanical ex-CIA agent (Eric Roberts)? What if Sly's character fell in love with the General's idealistic daughter (Giselle Itie) and felt compelled to overthrow the country with just a few pals and enough artillery to start World War III? And what if these bad-asses were played by actors who played similar action-film characters back in Sly's superstar era?

As rewritten by the 64-year-old star and director, the screenplay contains nearly a dozen roles for tough guys of a certain age, and Stallone filled the parts with actors who've spent a lot of time, for quite a long time, in the gym. They play ex-Special Forces types who settle international disputes in Africa and Latin America by killing evil, darker-skinned foreigners. (At least half of the stars are venerable enough to have served in Vietnam, though none of them did.) The saga of a group of old soldiers transplanted to a strange environment they have to blast their way out of, The Expendables is a kind of Toy Story 3 on steroids.

Indeed, if you collected movie action figures, you'd find almost the complete set here. Rocky and Rambo (Stallone), The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the Die Hard films' John McClain (Bruce Willis), Ivan Drago from Rocky IV (Dolph Lundgren) and Wong Fei-hung from Hong Kong's Once Upon a Time in China series (Jet Li), plus The Wrestler (Mickey Rourke), a few extreme-sports icons (Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Terry Crews) and an all-purpose sleazebag (Roberts, who filled a similar function in Stallone's 1994 The Specialist). Somehow Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal didn't make the cut.

By my count, the seven veteran stars of The Expendables are a cumulative 439 years old and have been making movies for 238 years. They'd all be greybeards by now if it weren't for the Grecian Formula. Schwarzenegger and Stallone both started in 1970 — one with Hercules in New York, the other with the soft-core sex picture The Party at Kitty and Stud's (retitled The Italian Stallion after Rocky was a smash) — back when you could have got rich betting that fellows named Arnold and Sylvester would become Hollywood action legends. Roberts, Rourke, Willis and Li have all been in the game for at least three decades, and Lundgren got his break from Stallone a quarter-century ago as Russia's heavyweight boxer/Golem. (Rocky's defeat of Drago, you'll recall, quickly led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.) Separately and together, this crowd has created a lot of film history, most of it disposable.

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