CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham Are Halfway in ‘The Expendables’
CHICAGO – Seeing them all together was fun. Enduring some macho joshing, even in the form of stiff dialogue, was tolerable. But doing a bad, boring action movie with Sylvester Stallone trying to prop up his “legacy” was sadly too much to bear. Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger are among “The Expendables.”
Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is the leader of a mercenary force, and the film opens with an intervention on a ship that’s been pirated. His force, which includes his right hand man Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Ying Yang (Jet Li), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), is introduced, and although they take care of the situation, Gunner goes rogue and Barney is looking for the next big job. He even commiserates with his best pal, Tool (Mickey Rourke).
The next gig comes in the form of Bruce Willis, as Mr. Church. He hires the team to take out a tinhorn despot general, who is starving his people on a small island country by giving up the fields to cocaine production. His partner is an American named James Munroe (Eric Roberts), running the drugs and pulling the strings behind the dictatorship.
Photo Credit: Karen Ballard for © Lionsgate
Accepting the assignment, Ross and Christmas do some reconnaissance on the island, where they are ambushed by Munroe’s men (including ”Stone Cold” Steve Austin as Paine). A mysterious woman named Sandra (Giselle Itié) helps them escape the first time, and Barney can’t shake the image of her courage in the line of fire. After some soul searching, and more advice from Tool, the whole team goes back to the island for some good old school butt kicking.
There was a kick of nostalgia seeing all the 1980s and ‘90s action figures together again for the first time. Craggier and dirtier than their younger versions, their cool clubhouse and locker room banter had an air of conviviality, with a bit of a wink at the camera. The pirated ship sequence was well handled in its violent mayhem, and director Stallone even added some expressive use of night vision photography.
Jason Statham was an excellent choice as the second-in-command. What is always admirable about him, which is a prerequisite for all great action guys, is his utter seriousness and invulnerability in the face of all the absurd situations that these type of movies dish out. Statham can take it, and gives back just as good. He is also the best actor of the bunch, which is the easiest contest in the world in a movie like this, even with Mickey Rourke trying to formulate character for Tool.
On the villain side, not one does oily like Eric Roberts does, and even though Dolph Lundgren as Gunner had little reason to go rogue, it was enjoyable to see him up for the challenge. It anticipated that perhaps he and Stallone would get a chance to do a little toe-to-toe combat, ala “Rocky IV” and make the reunion even that much more complete. Another inspired moment had the tinhorn general contemplating his fate in a room bedecked with glowing candlesticks.
But to paraphrase a famous aphorism, “Mickey Rourke wept.” A freaky, weepy monologue by the Mickster is the catalyst to send the team back to the island in Act Two, and that’s when the whole film falls apart. The infiltration and subsequent wreaking of havoc is an utter bore, with an overdose of improbable escapes, fights and big guns fired, but with no new action territory explored. Extreme violence and “things that blow up” took on a hypnotic quality, as in there was so damn many explosions that a baby could have eventually been rocked to sleep to the booming rhythm.
Photo Credit: Karen Ballard for © Lionsgate
Sly Stallone co-wrote and directed the film, and the worse of his ego is exposed in it. Here was an opportunity to have a gathering of some old favorites, and to waste them in sub-standard action fare was paradise lost. And I’m no expert on male menopause, but obviously Stallone has been doing both hormone therapy and screenplay writing to combat his extreme case. And judging by the looks of his over-pumped arms he missed the chance to add the classic pop song “You’re So Veiny” to the soundtrack.
What the second half of the film lacks, that sense of nostalgic fun expected when walking into the film, was a detriment to getting all these guys together. It made the whole exposition that much more expendable.
directed by Sylvester Stallone. Rated “R”