They may be expendable, but there sure are a lot of them.
A total of 17 actors, starting with series instigator and star Sylvester Stallone, get their names above the title on "The Expendables 3," playing returning members of this venerable mob of mercenaries as well as former and future Expendables and even Expendable auxiliaries. That's a hell of a lot of folks who don't seem to care whether they live or die as long as a given mission succeeds.
With some of their members looking old enough to apply for joint membership in the RED (Retired Extremely Dangerous) action franchise, "Expendables 3" has tried to make a virtue of necessity and construct a film about younger types muscling their sclerotic compatriots out of a job. That may sound interesting, but it's really not.
Instead, as directed by Patrick Hughes and written by Stallone and Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, "Expendables 3" is a kind of ho-hum experience, wherein a lot of bullets are expended and a lot of structures exploded to minimal dramatic effect.
Though the older actors have the biggest names — in addition to Stallone these include Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger — they also look increasingly dubious as elements in an action-hero franchise.
Schwarzenegger, returning as Expendable auxiliary Trench Mauser, looks especially shaky (maybe being California's governor was harder than it seemed). When Mauser says, "I'm getting out of this business, and so should you," he really seems to mean it.
As for Stallone, he looks remarkably fit for a man of 68, but the actor's varnished persona has so raised impassivity to an art form that killing people seems to come easier to him than actually talking to them.
"Expendables 3" finds Stallone returning as head Expendable Barney Ross, the man whose team of mercenaries government operatives like the CIA's Max Drummer (Ford) turn to when they don't want to get their hands dirty doing particularly messy jobs.
The film opens, however, with a bit of personal business as Ross and company attack a heavily guarded train in some unnamed hellhole to rescue Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), who had been an Expendable back in the day before getting unaccountably imprisoned.
Without so much as pausing for breath, the guys head for Somalia, where they are charged with stopping nefarious weapons smuggling. They get the shock of their lives when they discover that the smuggler in chief is Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), another former Expendable (these guys are everywhere, like Wesleyan film school graduates), who has fully embraced the dark side. Barney Ross for one gets so upset he forgets to blink. Really.
Understandably worried about the health of his aging minions and concerned as well that miscreants played by Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Jet Li and Randy Couture are getting too long in the tooth to bring the unbearably evil Stonebanks to justice, Ross cuts his team loose. Then he does what any of us would do, he relies on mercenary recruiter Bonaparte (an unlikely Kelsey Grammer) to point him in the right direction.
As a result, a quartet of newly minted Expendables played by Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey (as the world's top female mixed martial artist, she makes the biggest impression), Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz, joins the team. Space is also made for an overeager veteran named Galgo (Banderas) who is as garrulous as Stallone is zombified.
This younger group is highly competent and even teases Barney about his age ("That's a great plan," one of them says, "if it was 1988"), but if you think you've seen the last of the old crew, you underestimate the predictability of this kind of movie-making.
In addition to a great deal of bloodless (which is kind of a relief) PG-13 action, "Expendables 3" has a surfeit of the kind of tedious macho dialogue these films are known for. When Drummer returns to action and tells the gang, "I haven't had so much fun in years," it's not likely the audience will be in full agreement.
'The Expendables 3'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: In general releaseCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times