There are three elements that could make a cartoon of an action film like “The Expendables 3” work: some cool, kinetic action slam-o-rama; witty one-liners; and a really good bad guy.
Well, “Ex3” gets one of them right – sort of. Mel Gibson brings the correct amount of steely crazy to his role as Stonebanks, an immoral arms dealer who, for the right price, just might sell you and everyone you know a nuclear weapon. (It probably helps that, considering the troubles in his personal life over the last few years, he’s believable playing the meanest guy in, if not the world, then certainly this movie.)
Still, that’s not enough to salvage the third run-through of this full-employment act for aging crime fighters.
As the film begins, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is leading his team – including Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Caesar (Terry Crews), and Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) – on a mission to rescue Doc (Wesley Snipes), a former Expendable who has been stuck in a jail in some unnamed hellhole of a country for eight years. Barney wants to get Doc out so he can help with another mission in Somalia.
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But everything goes wrong, and Caesar is seriously injured and hospitalized. The culprit? It’s longtime Barney nemesis Stonebanks, of course.
Barney is shaken up by what’s happened with Caesar and decides, if he’s going to go back in and finish the job, he’s not going to do it with his crew of old reliables. He couldn’t bear it if something happened to them.
Instead, he breaks up the band and, thanks to well-connected friend Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), recruits a new gang of young toughs – guys with names like Thorn (Glen Powell), Smilee (Kellan Lutz), and Mars (Victor Ortiz), so you know they rock. And one of the guys is even a girl, Luna (Ronda Rousey).
The young guns trade insults with the vets, but no one’s going to mistake this for an Eminem rap battle in “8 Mile.”
But, almost as fast as you can say, “are they really making a fourth one of these?” – the answer is yes – Barney’s two armies have to team up to bring down the villainous Stonebanks, even though Stonebanks’ many gun-toting henchmen don’t seem even vaguely familiar with the concept of actually hitting a target. Barney gets an assist from his old buddies Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Drummer (Harrison Ford) and Yin Yang (Jet Li), as well as the hyper-active Galgo (Antonio Banderas), who is supposed to be comic relief but ends up being neither.
Little of this would matter if the film were punctuated with some breath-taking action. But the lumbering direction from relative newcomer Patrick Hughes – this is his second full-length feature – means the hand-to-hand battles are edited in such a way that what’s going on is a blur. Meanwhile, it’s predictably explosions-a-go-go through the climax.
Written by Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, “Ex3” doesn’t resonate with snappy retorts like movies of this ilk should. The jokes fall flat as pancakes.
Sadly, the most expendable thing about “The Expendables 3” is the movie itself.