Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Expendables

Sunday came, so as per usual I took a boat to Peng Chau to sit around and eat cheese, but catastrophically, the Frenchman who runs Copains D'abord was skiving off so we had to have some Thai food and then went back to Central to watch The Expendables.
Somewhat glibly, it's been described as the male version of Sex and the City. At first this seemed believable, because men and women are mutually incomprehensible species that can *never* enjoy anything produced for the other gender.1

But then I thought more about it, and realised there was never an episode of SATC where they machine-gunned a wharf covered in soldiers.

But then I thought again: after all, both things had ill-advised wardrobe decisions.  Carrie would wear a pink tutu in the title sequence; Jason Statham and Jet Li both wear white trousers in a grimy warehouse: hardly a sign of sartorial good taste or common sense.

There are some other distractions. I question why they would cast John Thomson from The Fast Show as the evil general. (Under a pseudonym as he's too embarrassed to admit to starring in this...)

I didn't feel there was quite enough homoeroticism. Ok, there are no more than three women with a speaking part in the entire film, but there weren't enough gratuitous shots of oiled-up biceps and neon pink thongs. Er.

There was also no back story at all. I prefer to think this was a brave exercise in minimalism and a refusal to kowtow to basic forms of characterisation, akin to the Dogme 95 movement, and not at all because Stallone couldn't be bothered to make time for anything between writing explosions.

In fact, maybe the whole thing is meta-textual. In the 1980s there used to be faceless hordes of latino military types to be gunned down. In The Expendables, not only are they totally anonymous, they've even had their faces covered in green paint to remove any possibility of identification with them.2 It's almost as if somebody was taking the piss.

Someone was very sincere about very loud guns, though. This reaches its apotheosis with an ex-American footballer firing an automatic shotgun at a cavalcade of green-facepainted extras, slightly louder than a 747 landing on the audience's heads.

Either I'm going blind, or slow, or somebody else was a bit lazy, as it felt like a quarter of the film was out of focus (that's those Dogme 95 types again), Stallone was mumbling like a punch-drunk pensioner, and half the fight scenes are almost incomprehensible - there's somebody running round, or punching somebody, or being shot, but it's not entirely clear why, how or who.

Oh, and it seems a bit odd how...

...nobody dies. Not even the token black guy that would die in every 80s action movie. It's almost as if Stallone was a nine-year old boy playing with his action figures and didn't want anyone to suffer fatal consequences. If they weren't a swarthy looking type in fatigues and a Fidel Castro hat. Or John Thompson from The Fast Show. Or anyone who's not one of the not particularly expendable Expendables.


So all in all, I think the film is an arch exercise in irony: Stallone was being ironic making it, everyone was being ironic acting in it, and we were all complicit in watching a film with no plot and grotesquely perverse production values. Still, the Exceedingly Loud Gun is pretty good value.

1 Sarcasm? Or not? Given the existence of Zoo magazine and Bella, who's to say?
2 Sorry, if you identify yourself as a green-face-painted soldier, I didn't mean to disparage you.


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