★★½ out of 5 -- Rated: R -- Run time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Back in 2010, Sylvester Stallone kicked off a highly successful action franchise with “The Expendables,” starring as the leader of a group of motley mercenaries working primarily for the good guys.
Sequels followed in 2012 and 2014, with all of them following the formula of lots of explosions, fights and chases, along with casts heavily loaded with action stars from the present… and past: Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Wesley Snipes and others. Even Harrison Ford showed up for one film…which for some reason also featured “Frasier” himself -- Kelsey Grammer (who was actually pretty good in that role).
It looked like the franchise was dead after creative differences resulted in Stallone walking away from the planned fourth installment. But now, nearly a decade later, fans of the series are finally getting to see “Expend4bles.”
Things are somewhat the same, but also a bit different.
First of all, Stallone’s character of group leader “Barney Ross” is only in the film for a limited amount of scenes -- although his presence is felt throughout the story. His No. 2, “Lee Christmas,” played by the sure-and-steady Jason Statham, is the main focus of the movie.
The soldier-of-fortune is dealing with a personal tragedy, a career setback, and breaking up with his CIA agent girlfriend played by Megan Fox. Director Scott Waugh (“Act of Valor” and “Hidden Strike”) tries to create some “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”-type vibe between the two but it never really kicks in.
The script by Kurt Wimmer (the “Point Break” and “Total Recall” remakes), Tad Daggerhart (“Black Lotus”), and Max Adams (“The Terminal List” TV series) has the team on the hunt for nuclear detonators stolen by a group led by the brutal “Rahmat,” well-played by Indonesian action star Iko Uwais whose youthful, fresh-face appearance contrasts well with his sadistic actions.
The “Expendables” team includes returning members Lundgren and Randy Couture, and has been augmented with some new faces: Rapper/actor Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as a former special forces soldier, Levy Tran (“MacGyver” TV series) as a CIA operator, and most impressive of all -- Jacob Scipio (“Bad Boys For Life”) as the son of the hyper, fast-talking character played previously by Antonio Banderas.
Banderas was supposed to reprise his role but had to bow out due to scheduling conflicts. Scipio stepped in and masterfully channels Banderas with the same mannerisms and delivery.
Also noteworthy is Thai actor Tony Jaa (”Fast and the Furious 7″) as a peaceful, zen-like boat owner whose former, violent skill set re-emerges when he decides to help Statham’s character.
Overall, “Expend4bles” feels like a smaller movie compared to the previous efforts. The team looks down-sized and is less believable when Fox leads a commando raid wearing a bare-midriff outfit and an extraordinary amount of make-up. There aren’t as many big action sequences this time around, although there is a lengthy climactic battle scene on board a large ship.
One of the enjoyable aspects of the previous films was all the big stars (past and present) who were constantly popping up throughout. Pierce Brosnan was supposed to be in this one, but that fell through and instead, we have Andy Garcia as a CIA officer who appears to be chomping at the bit to overact in a scene.
For fans of this franchise, “Expend4bles” touches most of the bases. But there’s also a sense of “Been there, done that.” If producers want to continue the series, they might consider an extensive overhaul.