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The fun and nostalgia run dry in 'The Expendables 3'

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The Expendables 3

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I was really looking forward to the third “Expendables” movie ever since I saw the teaser trailer which was scored to the “Bridge on the River Kwai” theme song. None of the films in this franchise will ever be mistaken for high art, but they bring about a much needed nostalgia that many of us have for action movies from the 1980’s. Watching “The Expendables 3,” however, reminded me of how the third movie in a franchise is where everything falls apart due to a reliance on formula and clichés that don’t work the way they used to. While I have a hard time saying that the actors look tired here (and that’s because they don’t), the story gets boring quickly, the dialogue is cruddy and not even the action sequences can lift us out of our utter frustration with something that’s not nostalgic enough.

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The Expendables 3” starts off with the team rescuing one of its long lost members, Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), from being sent to a military prison. The scene where he’s being rescued is cool, but the thrill we get from watching it feels a bit muted and it becomes a sign that everything else following the movie’s opening will be equally exhilarating (which is to say not at all). Either that or “The Raid 2” truly spoiled me to where I believe that no other action movie can come even close to achieving its insane brilliance.

After rescuing Doctor Death, the team heads off to Somalia to intercept a shipment of bombs that are being sent to a warlord. In the process, they come face to face with former member and Expendables co-founder Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) who had betrayed the team by profiting off of illegal weapons dealings. When he shoots Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) to where he is left in a precarious medical state, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) gets all shaken up and decides to disband the veteran members of the Expendables as he feels they have all run their course and should get out while they still have a pulse.

When Barney decides to do that, I knew this sequel was going to be in serious trouble. Barney ends up recruiting a whole bunch of younger Expendables with the help of retired mercenary Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), but you know from there that those “old guys” will eventually reappear to help save the day. Stallone, who has always been the major creative force behind the “Expendables” movies, always writes screenplays where the main character suffers a personal tragedy and seeks redemption in order to right what he did wrong, and he’s basically been writing the same damn screenplay since the original “Rocky.” Frankly, I think it’s time that Stallone opens his eyes to see that this storyline is as old as the Declaration of Independence.

Look, I don’t care how old Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren are because they can all still kick ass after all these years, but putting them all on the back burner for this entry proves to be foolish. You know that Barney will eventually realize he needs these guys’ help, and the movie takes way too long for him to reach that conclusion. Instead, it wastes a lot of time introducing us to a bunch of new Expendables, and most of them are tame to where it’s easy to understand why this sequel got a PG-13 rating instead of an R.

Kellan Lutz ends up showing the same range as an actor that he showed earlier this year in the horrifically bad “The Legend of Hercules,” and that’s not a compliment. As for Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz, they don’t leave much of an impression. Things fare much better though for Ronda Rousey who plays the highly athletic nightclub bouncer Luna. Don’t even ask if she holds her own with the male action stars because you can quickly tell she will even before she starts kicking ass. While her co-stars won’t linger in the mind long after you’ve endured “The Expendables 3,” Rousey makes you eager to see a female version of this franchise sooner rather than later.

Antonio Banderas shows up as Galgo, the soldier who won’t shut up. It’s like he’s doing a version of his Puss in Boots character on acid, and it’s a kick to see how much energy the Spanish actor still has at his age. Harrison Ford is also on board as Max Drummer, the CIA dude who manages the Expendables. It’s fun seeing Ford join the party, but it doesn’t take long to see that he’s playing the same character Bruce Willis played in the last two films. All the writers have done here is change the name to protect the greedy movie star.

Granted, there are some nice in-jokes throughout “The Expendables 3” which show the cast having a good sense of humor about themselves. I have to give Snipes credit as even he pokes fun at his felonious past, and there’s a nice line of dialogue regarding Willis’ disappearance from the franchise. But while the cast is clearly having fun, that fun never translates over to the audience. On top of being saddled with a weak story and crappy dialogue, the movie makes you feel like you’re a guest at a party where you’re not really party to the party.

Looking back, this movie could have used a lot more of Schwarzenegger in it as he proves to be one who gives us all the 80’s action nostalgia we could ever possibly want. Seeing him spout off classic one-liners from “Predator” provided me with the most enjoyable moments this movie had to offer. Indeed, he’s always had a good sense of humor about himself and is always determined to give audiences what they want. To see him reduced to a series of cameos here does this sequel a major disservice.

Actually, the best and most enjoyable performance in “Expendables 3” was, in my humble opinion, Mel Gibson’s who plays the ruthless arms dealer Conrad Stonebanks. Playing a crazed villain has become the kind of role Gibson typically plays, and this is one of the most gleefully psychotic bad guys he has played so far. That crazy energy he displayed in the “Mad Max” and “Lethal Weapon” movies is put to great use here, and he makes Conrad the kind of bad guy we seriously love to hate.

“The Expendables” movies have been about reviving the old days of 80’s action flicks, but this third entry misses the whole point about what made them so much fun; even with the thinnest of plots, they were about something. “The Expendables 3” feels like it exists only barely, and I came out of the movie theater feeling empty and depressed. Those 80’s action classics always got my adrenaline pumping, but this one almost put me to sleep despite an especially loud climax. After two fun action movies that made us nostalgic about what we grew up on, here with a sequel that reminds us of why so many in the genre these days suck.

This film was directed by Patrick Hughes, an Australian filmmaker who is now all set to helm the American remake of “The Raid: Redemption.” It’s bad enough that they are remaking that infinitely awesome movie, but I hope he has better luck with that one than he did with this one.

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