‘Expendables’ Go Out With a Ba-Boom

The Expendables 3
Two and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (violence including sustained gun battles and fight scenes, language)
126 minutes

Nostalgia for the 1980s ruled the box office this past weekend as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” held the No. 1 spot and “Guardians of the Galaxy” followed close behind.

There was little love, however, for another group of ’80s relics. The veteran action stars of “The Expendables 3” saw their sequel flop, opening in fourth place.

Apparently, the gimmick of Sly and his friends assembling to have some fun and make a little movie together has lost its punch. There’s also the fact that, according to Box Office Mojo, a “pristine” version of the film has been available online for weeks. So maybe “Expendables” fans are just a bunch of pirates.

Whatever the reason for the downfall of the aging mercenaries, “The Expendables 3” deserves at least a little better. For those who still miss old-fashioned stunt work, groan-inducing one-liners and the days when men of few words and many muscles dominated the big screen, this third installment is just as cornily entertaining as the first two films.

Although “The Expendables 2” rolled out a crowd-pleasing cameo by Chuck Norris and featured the Muscles from Brussels himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme, as the villain, the third movie boasts an ensemble so large, you can barely pick out their faces on the promotional billboards.

In case you’re wondering, returning Expendables include Sylvester Stallone, of course, as head honcho Barney Ross; cool-as-a-cucumber Jason Statham as Barney’s righthand man, Lee Christmas; perpetually surprised-looking Arnold Schwarzenegger as Trench, Barney’s former comrade and occasional rival; Dolph Lundgren as antisocial but well-armed Gunnar Jensen; Randy Couture as demolitions expert Toll Road; and Terry Crews as heavy weapons specialist Hale Caesar. (Jet Li fans will have to be patient, but don’t worry, he’s here, too.)

When it comes to new additions to the cast, “The Expendables 3” amps up the star power, albeit of the has-been variety, as none other than Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes grace Sly and the gang with their presence. And then there’s Mel Gibson, showing up in his most substantial big-screen role since his career imploded in a cloud of scandal.

Let’s talk about Mel for a moment. Like many people, it’s difficult for me to take him seriously after his reprehensible antics over the last few years. I don’t usually hold these things against actors, but in this case, it was nearly impossible not to judge. “The Expendables 3” serves as a strange, almost haunting, reminder of Gibson’s talent. He still looks haggard and doesn’t have much of a part, playing a maniacal arms dealer — didn’t he just do same role in “Machete Kills”? — but considering what he’s got to work with, he’s not half bad. (In stark contrast, Ford never seems to be enjoying himself until he finds himself inside the cockpit of a helicopter.)

It is Gibson’s character, the modern art-collecting Stonebanks, who lures the seasoned but still lethal team of soldiers-for-hire known as The Expendables out of retirement once again. Turns out he has a history with Barney (Sylvester Stallone), one so painful, it causes Sly to clench that Botoxed jaw and get a misty, far-away look in his eyes.

Barney and his men are dispatched by their new CIA contact (Ford, replacing Bruce Willis’ Church) to halt a deal by Stonebanks, but the mission quickly turns personal. When one of their own is threatened — yes, the plot of “Expendables 3” hews closely to that of “Expendables 2” — a shaken Barney attempts to shelve his team so they can enjoy their sunset years without prematurely expiring.

This leads to a hilariously sentimental montage of Barney’s dudes moping around in hotel rooms with no bros to hang with and no one to kill. It also results in the recruitment of a team of rookies including boxer Victor Ortiz, mixed martial arts fighter Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz of “Twilight” dreamboat-hood and newcomer Glen Powell.

These young whippersnapper Expendables don’t add much to the film. Perhaps Stallone included them to make the film seem more, I don’t know, relevant? Or perhaps he’s pandering — unsuccessfully — to a younger audience. Maybe that’s also why “Expendables 3” is rated PG-13 instead of the R this action throwback clearly calls for.

Despite the absence of blood and other gory details, this third entry has almost everything you’d want from an “Expendables” movie: shameless testosterone and male bonding, an extravaganza of explosions, machine-gun fire and martial arts, and cheesy quips, although it feels like there are less of these than in previous installments. Still, Stallone finds gags in everything from Snipes’ recent prison stint to Willis’ abrupt departure from the franchise.

Much of the film’s humor can be attributed to Snipes, spry as ever and raring to go as Doc, an ex-Expendable who is dramatically reunited with Barney and friends, and Banderas, stealing scenes as Galgo, a motor-mouthed wannabe Expendable.

Working from a story and script by Stallone, director Patrick Hughes — watch out for this guy, he’s been tapped to helm the American remake of “The Raid” — cooks up some satisfyingly old-school stunt sequences, including a doozy of a prologue revolving around a prison train ambush and a finale in which Stallone leaps onto a choppah (as Schwarzenegger calls it).

It’s probably time for the Expendables to hang up their body armor and shoulder holsters and call it a day, but if No. 3 is the end, at least Sly and the gang go out with a bang.

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