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Countdown to The Expendables, Chapters 2-8: A Power Review

2010/08/11

This seemed like a great idea a couple of weeks ago, the whole ‘watch a movie starring each star of The Expendables.  That was apparently because I mistakenly hadn’t realized that – given the dearth of true powerhouse action budgets – these guys have, as of late, not really been in a lot of real action movies.  Ah well, we soldier forward….

I’m not gonna lie to you:  I’m never doing anything this time-consumingly brutal to my soul again.  At least not until Expendables 2: Reckoning of the Apocalypse starts filming, but then I’m giving myself more time.  No man should ever sit through what I’ve sat through and live to tell the tale again.  So I looked up at the calendar today, and realized I’m three days away from life changing forever for the better, so I best purge all the ugly now.  In the interest of time, and for your own sanity, allow me to break from my tradition of long-winded expositions and just cover the meat of the movies at hand.  Strap yourselves in.  AND GO!

The Dolph Lundgren selection:  Diamond Dogs (2007).  This film accomplished the teaching of one very important lesson:  Never forget that you don’t like Dolph Lundgren.  Especially not when ‘acting’, per se, if that’s what it’s even called.  I knew I’d be in some trouble when the opening scene took place at one of those popular underground Asian death-fighting tournaments.  You know, the ones that are all the rage with the kids!  Anyway, Dolph somehow was in charge of this one – I assume because he is twice the size of every other actor in the movie.  The fighting ring gets busted, and Dolph gets called before an Asian Judiciary Committee that apparently holds their big cases in a community rec room, based on the folding table Lance Ito and two other judges are at.  They fine him 22 grand for his involvement, which he obviously doesn’t have, so he’s going to go to prison until he pays it off. Which, obviously, he’ll never do, since Asian prison wages are even worse than those in the states.  Pshaw….Dolph’s screwed.

But wait!  His little death-fighting-buddy pleads with the tribunal, and attests to Dolph’s purity of humanity and goodness of heart (as if his status as ‘proprietor of an underground beating club’ didn’t make that clear enough), and the Asian judiciary heads – a group clearly known for leniency and understanding – give him two weeks of freedom to pay back the 22 large.

And so, with the pit-fighting-shop closed up, and Denny’s apparently not hiring, Dolph is left mostly to enjoy his last two weeks of freedom because he ain’t got no job.  UNTIL!  He gets a job running a mercenary/freedom mission to earn his freedom, kill a bunch of folks, and make 22 grand just like that.  So Dolph puts together a rag-tag group of poor-at-basic-emotional-expression mercenaries, and off they go.  This is pretty much where I got off the ‘paying attention’ bus; what followed was a bunch of random quest-pursuing and a bunch of killing, mostly of the English language by our boy Dolph because this had WAY too much ‘dialogue’ to be successful and he talks like he’s got a whole peanut-butter sandwich in his mouth.  At the end, he never pays his debt, but he does turn over the treasure he fought so hard for to some Buddhist monks, and then questions his life choices.  Of course he does.  I guess it was okay if you really like cut-rate versions of Delta Force and Rambo and have sustained significant brain injuries throughout your lifetime.  2 out of 7.

The ‘Jet Li’ selection:  Warlords.  YAY!  I didn’t have to watch Lethal Weapon 4, after all!  See, Netflix Instant is reliable like that:  just when you think it’s let you down for the last time, it comes through at the last-minute, showing up with a handful of daisies and making you forget every time it’s let you down over the last month.  Then you sleep with it, and it doesn’t call you for a month, but boy those daisies sure were sweet!

So I was ecstatic to avoid the LW4 debacle, especially since Li was hardly in that, and I had just watched Edge of Darkness anyway right before we all learned again that Mel Gibson really can’t handle his schnapps (for the record:  that one isn’t too bad.  Mel plays ‘violent lunatic’ really well, it must be a gift.)  Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of the Jet Li action spectaculars I was hoping for, but rather one of his historical pieces.  Those are fine and all, but I really wanted Black Mask for the purposes of this experiment.  I want senseless violence, and you hand me ‘learning’.  Crap.

Anyhow, Warlords is majestic, big-scale and affecting, and Li proves himself to be a better actor than many of the typical action crew – at least, I think so.  I can’t speak to the dialect as this was, appropriately, in Chinese with subtitles.  It a big tale about three brothers and power struggles during the Qing Dynasty, and it’s pretty damn good.  I don’t know if any of it is true, but it seemed true, and that’s good enough for me, because I don’t like to waste my time ‘checking accuracy’.   Overall Warlords feels kinda Bravehearty in scope, and while it didn’t really hit my qualifications in the ‘dumb action’ category – way too smart for that, despite it’s incorporation of some kick-ass stunt work, and magnificent group-fight scenes –  I ‘d give it a 5 out of 7 in a ‘grand foreign historical movie’ kinda way.  Probably good I watched this after Dolph’s offering, because I felt a little like just watching Diamond Dogs was in some way being blatantly offensive to the entire Asian world community.

The ‘Jason Statham’ offering:  Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  If it wasn’t for this Guy Ritchie masterpiece, I don’t know that Statham would have ever really broken through – let’s be honest:  ‘rapidly balding, middle-aged guy’ isn’t generally the top pick in the traditional Hollywood action hero model.  Thankfully, LS&2SB, is so kick-ass that it helped blow Statham into the middlesphere, and without it, the world would be 3 Transporters and 2 Cranks short.  But don’t hold that against it.

This is a fun, amped-up, fast-paced caper film about hoodlums screwing over other hoodlums, and director Ritchie has proven with this and Snatch that he’s really good at that.  Maybe a little hard to follow the first time through, dialogue-wise, as the accents are thick and authentic, but it’s worth the extra effort.  In terms of this journey, it reminded me that Statham in a not-the-main-feature role (this is truly an ensemble piece), is still nonetheless one bad-ass shiny-headed mother.  It’s highly re-watchable, and the kind of movie that you stop on at 1 in the morning and watch to the end every time.   Everyone should have already seen this, and if you haven’t, get on it.  6 out of 7.

The ‘Randy Couture’ offering:  The Scorpion King 2:  Rise of a Warrior.  Hey, you, SK2!  I’m talking to you.  You’re guilty of some bullshit.  Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT put the biggest name in your movie, even if he is a kinda-meatheady professional fighter with a rabid following, on the front cover if he’s not the hero, and only appears in about a third of the movie.  That’s lying, and lying is wrong.

On the other hand, I get it.  Maybe you tried putting Randy in the saddle, but had to bump him to ‘dickhead villain who talks less’ when you noticed he was reading everything off of notes in ballpoint (or blood) written on his wrist, but I still don’t cotton to it.  Look, I’ll be honest, I never watched any of The Mummy movies because of my deep distrust of Brendan Fraser, nor did I watch The Scorpion King 1 – even though it featured The Rock – because of its affiliation with that franchise, so maybe there some intricate back story I missed here.  Yet, I doubt that.

This one starts out with a profile of Egypt’s greatest warrior, whose prowess in the field of battle wasn’t enough to keep him from getting the worst fucking haircut this side of Moe Howard.  Now he’s older, and his kid is going to some ‘Black Scorpion’ warrior training (seemed like a football camp, except filled with skinny poor kids apparently abducted on their way to the world’s least authentic renaissance fair).  We get about six minutes of thirteen-year-olds trying to kill each other, and then Couture stops everybody ’cause there’s a girl there!  What?  There ain’t no girls allowed in Scorpion-Death-Training-Camp!  So this giant man grabs this tiny girl by the neck and appears to be fixing to physically throw her out of the coliseum, when Warrior’s Kid tells him to leave her alone.

Rationally, Coach Sargon responds by pulling out a double-sided axe to behead the kid with, when the old man shows up.  He tells Couture not to try that kinda shit on his kid, and then the Emperor shows up out of nowhere and tells Couture to sit his stilted-talking ass down, and leave that whiny kid be.  Then he turns to SuperWarriorFlowbeeCut and tells him, it’s all good, as long as the kid goes to ‘Advanced Black Scorpion Camp’ next week.  Then Couture’s eyes turn black, and he tells BestEverFighterDad that he won’t forget this. 

Then, one scene later, some black smoke comes into BowlofNoodlesHeadedWarrior’s tent and covers him with scorpions, and that’s that.  That easy?  Why didn’t anybody think of that before?  Then the kid goes to the camp, where there’s a bunch more thirteen-year-olds wrestling and fighting with swords, only this time they’re all half-shirted.  W.  T.  F.

So at this point, I watched the rest of the movie like I watch pro-wrestling: on fast forward, stopping only for moments that seem like they might be interesting, but mostly turn out not to be.  Couture becomes an evil king, which is probably the same thing that happened to The Rock, and I wait impatiently to get to the point where the still-skinny-but-now grown up Matthias kills him.  Sometimes fast-forward isn’t enough.

 This was directed by Russell Mulcahy.  YOU DIRECTED HIGHLANDER!  WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?!?   In short:  Couture does not seem to be very good at acting.  And I do mean that in a ‘compared to  Jean-Claude Van Damme’ manner of speaking.  The lower-end CGI rendering of him in a couple of scenes delivers lines more naturally.  1 out of 7, and I predict Couture dies halfway through The Expendables, because they had to figure out how to get him off-screen.

The ‘Sylvester Stallone and Mickey Rourke’ offering:  Get Carter.  I know, I said I was going to watch a separate Rourke movie, but I ran out of time, and plus Rourke in this is perfect in the eyes of this quest.  If you want other Rourke, by all means watch Rumble Fish, Barfly, Angel Heart, Johnny Handsome – they’re all great arenas for Mick to work in, and it’s a nice reminder of a time when he didn’t look like his head was a bag filled with bologna that got pummelled with air-hammers for a month straight.  For now, we go with this, because it works.

Remember when I said Stallone never stopped trying?  Here you go, right from 2000.  This failed huge, because nobody was going to see standard action anymore, and that’s a shame.  I swear I watched this before, but that was likely during my days as a professional souse, so I was ecstatic to not remember much.

Stallone plays a pro-assassin whose decent-guy-with-the-wrong-crowd brother gets killed.  Back for the funeral, Sly’s Jack Carter comes back to touch base with his family and maybe repent, but then he starts trying to figure out who killed his bro.  And by ‘figuring out’, I am naturally referring to ‘beating the living shit out of some scum’.  Awesome. 

For the first half, Stallone gets his ass handed to him a lot by a bunch of future victims.  Again, perfect action movie roll-out.  Put Carter’s back against the wall.  Don’t give him an out.  Make him get back to his roots.  Piss him off. 

Rourke isn’t the biggest guy in the villain camp, but his parts are greasier and skeevier than anybody – that’s pretty much a given in mid-90s to ‘two years ago’ Rourke, but goddamn he’s fun to watch.  Plus, it’s nice to have a high-caliber guy NOT be the main baddie, because that’s somebody extra and special to get a killin’ on the way to the end (FYI: beaten to death on a dance floor.  Cool).

Look, this isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s not nearly as horrid as everyone would have you believe.  It’s standard action fare – WHAT I WANT MORE OF, in other words.  Decent soundtrack, funky editing, and a great end build-up of Sly beating the hell out of everyone until he gets to the truth (essentially, two years ago Taken just eliminated the first half.  Good call).  And (SPOILER ALERT, JERKS), when he finally gets ahold of head scum-ass Michael Caine, I never realized how much that limey had it comin’ to him.  A lot of fun – no classic, but worth a run-through – gets Carter a 4 out of 7.

The ‘Eric Roberts’ offering:  Dark Honeymoon.  I was so looking forward to this, with its cast of Roberts, Roy Scheider, Daryl Hannah and Tia Carrere.  And I was so, so terribly disappointed.  This is fucking awful.  Not even in a ‘so bad it’s fun’ way – it blows way past that mark.  First off, the whole point of this was Roberts, right?

Five minutes.  Maybe.  That’s it.  Playing a character I have to assume was called ‘Douchebag Yuppie with Bluetooth Headset’.  He enters a coffee shop, is a total dick to everybody, then goes to the bathroom.  Later on, we find out he was murdered in the can.  Though I will say, his five minutes were PHENOMENAL.  The man makes gold out of dirt.

The movie itself is about a young newly married couple, who apparently don’t know each other.  Strike that.  It’s about a forty-year-old woman playing a twenty-year old, acting next to an actual twenty-year-old.  As soon as they head out on the honeymoon, she apparently reveals that she’s crazy-weird-religious, which had apparently never come up before, but at the same time filthy-dirty in the sack, while still talking about Jesus.  And also, she kills everyone they meet who like to get it on without being married. Lindy Booth, the actress playing her, is never going to be classified as ‘too subtle’, that’s the nicest way I can put that.  I can’t begin to express how this totally fails on every imaginable level – acting, scripting, directing….god, it’s purely abysmal.

Roy Scheider is an innkeeper, but seems to be playing every scene as if he thinks Ashton Kutcher is going to leap out and tell him he’s been punk’d.  Tia Carrere has seemingly made some seriously bad cheekbone-implant decisions, and I never got to Daryl Hannah.  I can’t express enough how much Dark Honeymoon sucks, other than to give it the deserved Zero out of 7.  Except for Roberts, he gets a 9.

Addendum:  I looked it up on IMDB.  Roberts character is named ‘L.A. Guy’.  That’s wonderful.

Finally……..

The ‘Terry Crews’ offering:  How To Rob a Bank.  This is why Netflix Instant is awesome.  As much as I love railing on end on all the horrendous mistakes available out here, the truth is, when you find something totally magnificent there is no greater feeling.  Such is my feeling on How To Rob a Bank.

The late Nick Stahl stars as Jinx, a fast-talking slacko who, in his attempt to complain about ATM service fees, ends up locked in a bank vault with a teller/robbery accomplice, whilst the robbers (led by Bush’s Gavin Rossdale – who’s surprisingly engaging) are locked outside. Meanwhile, the police negotiator played by Crews is outside attempting to gain control of the situation.  In addition, there is a ‘criminal mastermind’ working on the outside who comes into play as well.  What ensues is a variation on the traditional bank-heist film that is super-entertaining.

Crews is really great; he plays the negotiator like a blend of Denzel Washington and Reginald VelJohnson from the Die Hards.  I know that sounds weird, but it’s really fun.  The movie is fast-paced with rapid dialogue and referencing – it’s almost like Lock, Stock but without the British accents.  The majority of the interaction comes in the form of cell phone conversations between all the primaries, and while I thought that might get old, it never does.  From start to finish, How To Rob a Bank is original enough, and thoroughly exhilarating, and it might be the best find I’ve come across on Netflix Instant to date.  The moment it ended, I was immediately pondering watching it over again, and that rarely happens anymore.  I give this one a 6 out of 7, with the distinct chance I may go even higher upon re-watch.

So what did I learn?  I like Stallone.  I like Rourke, Crews, Roberts, Statham and Li.  I dislike Lundgren, and don’t see anything in Couture.  And mostly, I want Austin to get a better shot.  So all in all, these pieces add up well, and I’m more convinced than ever that The Expendables is going to be tremendous.  But what do I know?  I watch a lot of ugly.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. jim permalink
    2010/08/11 5:50 am

    looking forward to the expendables myself… good article…but as a huge Tia Carrere fan gotta say those are her cheekbones and they are the best in the world. Thought she was the only good thing in dark honeymoon and was glad they killed off super ham roberts quickly can’t believe he actually has a fan.

  2. 2010/08/11 7:36 am

    Ah, but it is his super-ridiculous overacting that I love the best. Eric Roberts approaches every role, no matter how small or pointless, as if he is a community theater lifer with but one last chance to act the hell out of some dialogue. Thanks for reading!

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