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The Expendables: It’s better in your head

If it weren’t for a small test audience in the early 80s, I probably wouldn’t be writing this review now. Why’s that, you ask? Well settle back and I’ll tell you a story…

For those of you who haven’t read David Morrell’s 1972 novel First Blood, John Rambo is killed by Sheriff Teasle at the book’s climax. Sorry for the spoiler, but for the purpose of our story it’s essential.

Fast-forward a decade later and that original ending was filmed for the movie version of First Blood. Fortunately for some (and unfortunately for others no doubt) that very same test audience changed the history of Hollywood forever.

How, I hear you cry? They did it by finding Rambo’s death too downbeat, so it was re-shot and hey presto Johnny boy lived. OK, so this next bit is all speculation but you’re going to have to admit it makes perfect sense.

So much testosterone it'll make you grow chest hair.

If Rambo had died we wouldn’t have had Rambo: First Blood Part II.  Now I have fond memories of that movie, as I managed to bunk in underage after a McDonalds and a water pistol fight in Toys R’ Us but that’s for another time. So no “Rambo” no Commando. No Commando no Stallone/Schwarzenegger action movie arms race.

With me? Good.

No Stallone/Schwarzenegger action movie arms race, no Bruce Willis running around in a vest. No endless straight to video Steven Seagal movie trash, no Muscles From Brussels, no mammoth body counts, no Arnie zingers, no Reagan calling in Rambo, no mangasms (that Bud’s for you Sarah and Lauren), no nothing, and no motherf**king prisoners!

Excuse me.

Of course those guys would have been around in some capacity, but would Arnie be in charge of the fourth largest economy in the world? I doubt it. So thanks to that test audience all those years ago I sit typing this review.

If I’m honest, if all 30-something action fans are honest, The Expendables was always a better film left playing in the imaginations of our 15-year-old selves. When I heard the cast I rang every bastard up I knew who’d appreciate my state of rabid excitement and bored them to death with the possibilities. Shit, this movie threatened to be the mock film posters I’d draw for hours on end while taping Mike Allen’s rap show and waiting for my shout-out.

The problem with The Expendables is they should have done it years ago. Who cares about the budget back then at these stars’ height? I would have gladly chipped in my wages from “Stag Sports” to pay for the peanuts aboard a Lear Jet. Every little helps.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the action is pretty good, the Cobra-style car chase is a blast and the Jet Li/Dolph Lundgren mash up is ingenious, but pretty good is not good enough.

Jason Statham comes off the best as knife-mad Lee Christmas (isn’t it funny that some holidays are funnier than others–Lee Easter just doesn’t cut it) and proves he’s a real British movie star now because, like Michael Caine and Sean Connery, he doesn’t have to change his accent for the yanks.

Talking of accents, the Austrian Oak’s much-heralded cameo falls somewhat flat after an excellent entrance into a church. The doors open and holy light floods in, the god of action movies giving his benediction to Stallone’s one-man crusade to keep aging heroes off benefits.

Arnie, Bruce Willis and Sly exchange some half-arsed dialogue, clunky and awkward like the Michael Aspel interview they gave on British television when they were partners in Planet Hollywood. I was gutted. The chemistry just wasn’t there. On walking out Willis asks of Arnie, “What’s his problem?”  Stallone answers, “He wants to be President.” OK, that was sorta funny.

What about the plot? Do you need to ask? Let’s just say the South Americans are fair game again as tin pot villains. This is probably due to strong socialist leaders like Hugo Chavez and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva appearing on the world stage refusing to be the stooges of American foreign policy. Send in the mercs to take em down!

If I were honest again I would ask, is there a strong undercurrent of racism and misogyny in The Expendables? I’ll let you be the judge on that one.

Stallone proposes a sequel and hypocrite that I am I’ll probably come over all unnecessary and have a massive mangasm (I got you twice!) waiting to see what other old relics will come out of the Chuck Norris retirement home, all guns blazing.

Until that point comes I’ll keep humming Mel and Kim’s “Respectable” but swapping that lyric with “Expendable” and remain,

Disappointed of Essex.