Monday, 31 January 2011

Review - swords, sorcery & silliness abound in 'Sinbad & The Minotaur'

In an age of wonder, a hero sets off on an epic quest in search of the greatest treasure the world has ever known, but in so doing must face off against a sinister adversary and a fearsome monster. 'Tis a most familiar set-up, one which storytellers far and wide have utilised for time immemorial, and for one simple reason: it's ace. Come on, don't we all get at least a bit of a buzz from a good old fashioned swashbuckling adventure? I know I do. Put it this way: Indiana Jones means more to me than Star Wars. Ever since falling in love with Spielberg's timeless trilogy as a kid, I've always had a soft spot for rip-roaring treasure hunts. I mean, I even like Sahara. And the National Treasure movies.

But if we're talking Greek mythology and/or Sinbad the Sailor, one name obviously comes straight to mind: Ray Harryhausen. His movies defined fantasy for generations of armchair adventurers, thanks not only to the man's still-astonishing special effects, but also a wholesome, simple, boy's own approach to storytelling. It's no wonder so few filmmakers have dared revisit those particular myths since; what chance do they think they have of topping those old favourites for sheer iconic power? Clash of the Titans, anyone?

And so into the arena strolls Sinbad and the Minotaur. Boldly, it throws two of those mythic worlds together, including a classic monster that old Ray somehow never got round to bringing to life. And does it come close to dethroning Harryhausen?

That's a rhetorical question, naturally. Of course it doesn't, nor is it trying to. Rather, this is a workmanlike straight-to-DVD effort in the mould of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, where the budget is low and the tone even lower. Period detail and historical/mythological/geographical accuracy are of no concern whatsoever; these heroes and villians of a byegone era invariably sport contemporary haircuts and urban accents. The quality of the CGI isn't too great a concern either. And if you can take all that as a given, Sinbad and the Minotaur is actually quite good fun.

Sinbad is portrayed here by Manu Bennett (of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, a show I've heard good things about but have regretfully yet to see). Happily, he makes for an entertaining hero, his wild eyes and ever-so-slightly-out-of-it intonation a wee bit reminiscent of Captain Jack Sparrow. In this instance, however, the hero's sailing credentials are largely disregarded; perhaps unsurprisingly given the budget, very little time is spent at sea. We meet him stealing a scroll from an evil sorceror's tent in the desert which tells the location of the head of the Collossus of Rhodes, which will of course make Sinbad and his crew rich beyond their wildest dreams. But once they find the island in question, they have that same sorceror and his minions on their trail, plus locals who may not be entirely friendly, and of course a certain monster...

However, it's not quite the Minotaur of legend. I'm not referring to the fact that the beast is brought to life via third-rate CG; again, that's a given in so low budget a movie. Rather, it's the design of the creature that breaks with convention, as instead of a half-man half-bull walking around on two cloven feet, we instead have simply a bull, albeit one of unusual size and aggression; kind of a bovine variation on the beast from The Brotherhood of the Wolf. I dunno; I guess everyone wants to make their mark and do their own thing with the tried-and-tested monsters of yore - after all, Harryhausen himself was also prone to such reinterpretation - but as a fan of Greek mythology I can't help being disappointed that we're not getting the classic model.

And that's not the only curious artistic decision. The tone of Sinbad and the Minotaur is more than a little uneven. For the most part it's the kind of family-friendly fare you'd expect to find on TV any given Bank Holiday afternoon, but then (as the 15 certificate reflects) there are a number of surprisingly gruesome scenes, with a spot of Passion of the Christ-esque lashing, more than a few impaled and/or lacerated Minotaur victims, and Sinbad pulling off a two-sworded decapitation Gladiator style. Given these leanings toward a slightly older (I won't say more 'mature') audience, it's surprising they don't go to similar extremes sexually, as such 80s sword and sorcery cheapies like Barbarian Queen did. There are plenty of opportunities to do so, with Sinbad popping in on a hareem and taking one along as his love interest, and yet things remain entirely chaste and, a few cleavage flaunting outfits aside, modestly attired.

The net result is a movie in danger of cancelling itself out; it's too mild for lovers of old school sword and sorcery trash, yet too nasty for family audiences. But what the hell, there's still some fun to be had, even if it's simply laughing at the naffness of the sound mix, the special effects and the histrionic performances. That said, Manu Bennett does make for a surprisingly endearing hero, Steven Grives is an enjoyably hissable baddie, and - once again - there's always something to be said for a good old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure. Yes, it's cheap, it's silly and it's enormously derivative, but as those kind of movies go it ain't half bad. 

Sinbad and the Minotaur is released to Region 2 DVD on 7th February, from Chelsea Films.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Oh God... is there a 'Lethal Weapon' remake in the works?!

The Hollywood Reporter just broke this rather unsettling story. It's all there in the title. Let's give it a moment to sink in.

Okay. So here, as they say, is the skinny:

"Are you ready for a Lethal Weapon reboot? How about a remake of The Wild Bunch?

Those are some of the few high-profile titles now getting a new lease on life at Warner Bros. due to the year-end departure of longtime studio executive Jessica Goodman. During her 13-year tenure, the executive vp oversaw such projects as Watchmen, Training Day and the upcoming Green Lantern. Since her departure, the studio’s top brass has reassigned her portfolio among several other execs.

In the file were long-in-development remakes of The Dirty Dozen and Oh, God, as well as Tarzan -- titles that have been active in recent years but haven’t come together with the right talent to score the elusive green light. Also in the mix are a reboots of the Mel Gibson-Danny Glover franchise Lethal Weapon, as well as remakes of Westworld and The Wild Bunch.

The properties will now get fresh and hungry eyes -- and talent agents are already chatting up the potential projects and listing clients they can pitch for directing or writing gigs."

Hmm... how's about NO?

I don't want to get into yet another diatribe on the incessant remake/reboot/regurgitate trend in Hollywood this past decade or so. There have been a million pissed-off blogs and articles written, none of which has stopped these remakes being made. And honestly, some of the remakes I haven't minded too much. But still - are we really so uncomfortable with the idea of something new? Are we that retrogressive culturally that we have to attempt to directly recreate that which came before, rather than simply taking influence?

Now, in the case of The Wild Bunch and Westworld, I must confess the films don't mean too much to me personally, and I have little doubt they're not too well known with this generation of cinemagoers (however, surely any Westworld remake would only serve to underline its obvious similarities with Michael Crichton's later and somewhat better known film in which a hi-tech holiday resort goes tits up; Jurassic Park.) But come on... remaking Lethal Weapon? What the hell for? Isn't the series still familiar to all? Doesn't everyone still say "I'm too old for this shit?" Isn't its influence still felt in every mismatched action comedy buddy movie, up to and including this year's The Green Hornet?

Sigh... oh well, if it happens, it happens. And who am I kidding, if they do it I'll be there to see it. I like The Hollywood Reporter's suggestion of Jeremy Renner for Riggs; if they get a cast of that caliber, and a writing and directing team to match, I'm sure it'll make for a great action buddy flick. And I have no problem with another action buddy flick in the vein of Lethal Weapon. I'd just prefer it not to be a Lethal Weapon remake...

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

First look at 'X-Men: First Class'

Courtesy of CHUD - or, at least, that's where I saw it first - here's the first official photo, perhaps leaked unofficially, of the cast of Mathew Vaughan's upcoming X-prequel.

A photo can only tell us so much, of course, but this would seem to confirm the murmurs that the film would be taking a more 60s aesthetic in line with the original comics. Aside from January Jones' Emma Frost, of course, whose appearance here will no doubt be inspiring rabid reactions among many fans. Fassbender and McAvoy look suitably leader-ish: their matching costumes would again appear to confirm that we will see Magneto and Xavier starting out on the same team, before those tricky ideological differences tear them apart.

Not sure how or why Howie Mandel's Maurice from Little Monsters crept into the back there, but hey...

As unexpected as it was, how could an X-movie from the director of Kick-Ass not be an exciting prospect? Can't wait to see more.

Review - no-budget no-brainer 'Circle of Pain'

A once great fighter, having turned his back on his old life following a personal tragedy, finds himself with no choice but to return for one last fight. Whilst the former fighter is a man of honour, the new champ he must face is a ruthless, arrogant and without principle. Under the tutelage of a philosophical coach with unconventional methods, the fighter must rebuild his strength and skill, but most importantly find the will to fight again, and in so doing regain his self-respect, and win back the heart of the wife he almost lost.

It's a familiar tale. Only this time it's set in the realm of mixed martial arts. And done on what looks to be a very, very low budget. With Dean Cain in a wheelchair saying "fuck" a lot.

I try not to judge a low-budget direct-to-DVD movie by its cover, I really do. For filmmakers to have limited resources at their disposal does not automatically mean the end product will be of a lower artistic merit. But in my experience it very often suggests that the film will leave a great deal to be desired in terms of aesthetics, performance, writing, and pretty much everything else with the exception of gratuitous sex and violence.

And guess what - Circle of Pain ticks all the boxes. It may not be the most inept fight film I've ever seen - that distinction must go to the (shudder at their name) Brain Damage Films release, Fist of the Vampire (click title for my review) - but this is still an utterly, utterly stupid movie, with a flimsy and derivative script, feeble central performances, and often painfully amateurish camerawork and editing. It's the kind of film where you can accurately predict exactly what's going to happen from moment to moment, and the only surprises come from the many various ways in which the key players fail to make it work dramatically.

But then... there's plenty to be said for movies so unrelentingly bad that you can't help but laugh. And obviously no-one involved thinks they're filming Ibsen. As cheap and tacky goes, Circle of Pain is at least good for a few shits and giggles.

Take leading man Tony Schiena (pictured left - and yes, he is most definitely the lead, not big beardy guy Kimbo Slice as the cover art would seem to suggest. Shocking, I know. Misleading DVD covers suggesting something that barely resembles the actual movie? Whatever next?) I see from the press release that Schiena's a World Karate Champion, which certainly explains a bit as one would be most shocked if he'd been hired for his acting ability. Well, that's not entirely fair - action stars have never been made on the basis of being talented, versatile performers. They succeed based on charisma. And this guy has none. The character's a cardboard cut-out, the actor's a cardboard cut-out, all of which highlights what a cardboard cut-out of a movie this is.

But then, goodies rarely get the sweet end of the lollypop. It's always the villains who have the most fun. Circle of Pain honours this tradition via two fight film archetypes: the aforementioned ruthless new champ, and the shady promoter. Now, the champ as played by UFC veteran Heath Herring is pretty textbook - mohawk, bad attitude, up to his thick neck in babes and money - but the real big bad here is the president of the RFC (Revolution Fight Club, if I recall correctly - therefore nothing whatsoever like the Ultimate Fighting Championship, obviously. Ahem), played by Bai Ling. Tick one box for direct-to-DVD standards: the presence of at least one vaguely reputable star who's either slumming it or really needs the work that badly. Along with the aforementioned Mr Cain, whose supporting role consists of being in a wheelchair and saying "fuck" a lot. I think I already mentioned that.

Now, I hope I'll be forgiven for saying that my first thought whenever I see Bai Ling of late is "mother of god, are you ill, woman?" I don't wish to be all objectifying and judgemental about female body shapes; my colleague Britt Hayes recently spoke out against this in the reaction to the first photos of Rooney Mara in the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake, and I agree with her overall sentiment. But what can I say: such skinny female forms tend not to please my eye, and more often than not make me fear for the health of the woman in question. This is particularly true in such a case as Bai Ling, who was once more full-figured and hence, to my tastes at least, more attractive; her then-voluptuous physique stirred a strong reaction in my adolescent self in The Crow. (We might add that Rooney Mara has lost weight specifically for the role, whereas this is just what Bai Ling looks like these days.) But putting such concerns aside, Ling gives perhaps the most entertaining performance in the film, oozing evil from start to finish and appearing to have a great time doing so. She's such a supervillian, she wouldn't appear out of place in a Bond movie, although in those she wouldn't be able to scream "SHUT FUCK UP LOSERS!" at the fight audience.

A Bond film also wouldn't allow Bai Ling to to have sex scenes that are pretty much soft porn, including a girl-on-girl smooch and a spot of rough and tumble with the bad boy champ. Circle of Pain has more than a few such scenes with a number of different ladies (some of whom are clearly surgically enhanced), presumably to counterbalance the innumerable sights of sweaty bare-chested men and make the heterosexual male audience feel a bit more secure. It's no surprise that these occasional laspes into pornsville are extremely unconvincing; for, after all, much the same can be said of the fight scenes. They play out like a variation on the kung fu fight scenes of old, but instead of the assailants declaring "your tiger style is weak, and no match for my dragon crane!" they know say "yo, you fight like a bitch, pussy!" Be they set in the octagon (where they utterly fail to convince us we're witnessing a spectacle on a par with a UFC event) or out on the street, there's never any question that what we are seeing is staged. Yes, a lot of these performers are genuine mixed martial artists, and I'm not about to suggest that they don't know what they're doing. But there's a big difference between genuine fighting and choreographed fighting, and though they may be real fighters they largely fail to make it look real here. In fairness, though, the lion's share of the blame for this has to land on the shoulders of director Daniel Zirilli. A good action director knows how to position the camera and time the edits in a manner that makes it look real. Zirilli doesn't.

This highlights the overriding problem that films like Circle of Pain face: as the clear intended audience is MMA fans, why would they watch a movie about it when they can just watch actual MMA? In the kung fu movies of old, and to an extent the kickboxing films of the 80s, the audience was being given something it couldn't find elsewhere; but in this age of digital television and internet with the UFC broadcast worldwide, geniune MMA fights are readily available. What does an MMA movie need to provide for its would-be audience, then; what is it that real MMA fights do not provide? Well, brace yourselves for this, but... it doesn't hurt to have a good story. And good performances. And halfway decent dialogue. You know, movie stuff. David Mamet's marvellous and terribly underseen/underrated jiu-jitsu flick Redbelt has all that in spades. Circle of Pain... not so much. But hey, whatever gets you through a six-pack and a curry on a Friday night in.

Circle of Pain will be released to Region 2 DVD on 24th January 2011, from Chelsea Films.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Holy crap - it's Spidey & Cap!

 There we have it - Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, unmasked. And is it any coincidence that this first picture appears to show him wandering down Broadway looking down-hearted...?

But seriously - what do we take from this image? Knee-jerk reaction is to point out how alarmingly Robert Pattinson-esque it is - fluffy sideways-brushed fringe over furrowed brow, arch cheekbones and shoegazing expression. But is it fair to attack this as pure Emo, when Peter Parker always has had more than a bit of the tortured soul thing about him? And the suit looks pretty cool; slightly darker tones than the Maguire model, and a shinier, leathery finish.

And then we have Chris Evans as Captain America. This was always going to be a trickier proposition; perhaps more than any of the other classic Marvel heroes, this one had the potential to look the most absurd in the flesh. And yes, it still looks a wee bit absurd, but taken as an embodiment of American patriotism during World War 2, it seems credible enough. They appear to have taken much inspiration from The Ultimates, balancing out the almost pop-art design with practical battle armour. And the wings are kind of still there.

True believers we remain...

UPDATE: 18th January - check out this more official, ubercool Cap pic! (Thank you Den of Geek.)

Review - the buzz on 'The Green Hornet'

What a curious moment the arrival of this film represents. To film geeks, it's an "at last!" Whilst I suspect to the general audience it's more, "what the hell's this then?"

For those who came in late, the story of Britt Reid - wealthy heir to a newspaper empire who dons a mask to battle evil, with the assistance of his kung-fu master chauffeur Kato - has been hobbling its way through development hell for a very long time. I won't lie to you, I remain utterly unfamiliar with the radio series, comic books and TV show (although, of course, I know Bruce Lee played Kato), but over the last decade or so I've seen the intermittent reports that George Clooney and Jet Li would be portraying the heroes; then that brief period when Kevin Smith promised it would be his next feature after Jersey Girl (apparently going so far as to offer the lead to Jake Gyllenhall), before he got cold feet and went back to his roots with Clerks 2. And then, when Seth Rogen got involved and managed to get Stephen Chow on board to play Kato and to direct, I was one among many foaming at the mouth at the prospect of the mad genius behind Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle having a Hollywood budget to play with. Alas, that was not to be either. And so it was that directing duties came to be taken by the unlikely candidate of Michel Gondry, leaving us wondering what the hell an action film from the seasoned music video master and subsequent director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would look like.

So it's a blockbuster superhero movie from an experimental indie director, written by and starring a comedy actor who (unless we count The Pineapple Express) has also never done action, with a co-star who's an unknown in the west, a villian played by a recent Oscar winner also yet to fully make a mark on the western market, and female support from one of Hollywood's hitherto most bankable actresses who hasn't had a real hit in quite some time. And all under the watchful eye of the producer behind The Fast and the Furious franchise.

All this considered, it's no surprise that The Green Hornet is an odd movie. But does it work...?

Well, it all rather depends. Ask yourself now - do you like Seth Rogen? For the record, I do; I think his work in Knocked Up was one of the finest comedy performances of the decade, which suggested a more dramatic future for the man. Likewise, his writing on Superbad (with Evan Goldberg, also co-writer and executive producer here) proved he was a comedic talent to be reckoned with. Even so, there was a pretty big question mark over how this would translate to leading man action hero material. And the answer to that question - it really doesn't. The Green Hornet is first and foremost a comedy, and while Rogen has lost quite a bit of weight and gets to bust a few fighting moves here and there, his focus remains on the wisecracks on which he has made his name. Britt Reid is a smug, dim-witted loudmouth at the start of the film, and he's still a smug, dim-witted loudmouth at the end. The practical downside of this is, if you didn't like Seth Rogen before, this film will do nothing to change your mind.

The real superhero of the movie, then, is Kato. He's the one with the skills; he designs and constructs the cars and the weapons, he kicks bad guy ass, and he makes very good coffee. Honestly, it's hard to envisage Stephen Chow in this role now: not only is Chow noticeably older than Rogen, but he's more accustomed to playing the more Britt Reid-like roles, the overconfident buffoons. Kato is a more suave character, more justified in his self-confidence, and more dignified with it. Disregarding some difficulties with speaking English, Jay Chou does a pretty good job. Happily, Rogen and Goldberg have avoided the usual Hollywood trap of painting any Asian character as an asexual Zen monk with heightened spiritual sensibilities. Cooler he may be, but in many respects Kato and Britt are quite evenly matched, both talking equal amounts of trash, both hitting on Cameron Diaz's Lenore.

On which note, yes, your instincts are correct: Cameron Diaz has very little reason to be in this film. But again, Rogen and Goldberg have the good sense not to reduce her to a love interest and/or damsel in distress. Instead, she's basically exposition lady; in line with their plan to pose as villians in order to infiltrate the world of crime, Britt and Kato utilise Lenore's credentials as a criminology student to inform what they should do next. What this of course emphasises is that Britt and Kato really are just making it up as they go along; they like the idea of being superheroes, but don't really have much of a clue of just what that entails, hence they quickly find themselves up to their necks in shit they are not equipped to deal with. Hmm... doesn't sound all too different to Kick-Ass, does it? Yes, that movie covered very similar ground to this one, and did so in a far more ballsy and unhinged fashion. As such, The Green Hornet can't avoid feeling a wee bit stale by comparison.

This is not to say that The Green Hornet isn't just a bit ballsy and unhinged too. As PG-13/12A movies go, this is pretty full-on stuff. Britt and Kato aren't just knocking out thugs and leaving them for the cops; they're flat-out killing people, left right and centre. Inevitably given the rating this film doesn't have as much blood as Kick-Ass, but a fair few more bullets, car wrecks and explosions. You won't find any musings on great power and great responsibility here. Nor does The Green Hornet shy away from swearing as so many do these days; nobody drops the F-bomb, but otherwise Rogen's spouting as many profanities as ever. All this considered, parents might want to give careful consideration as to whether their little ones can handle it. For the rest of us, it may just leave us wishing they'd thrown caution to the wind and gone into R/15 territory instead.

As for how Gondry fares; well, he certainly crafts some good action sequences with greater flair than many. Even so, I rather doubt this will lead to him making more big-budget tentpole pictures. He seems most assured in the more outlandish moments, notably a very cool use of split-screen midway through. Likewise, it seems doubtful Rogen will get offered more action hero parts off the back off this; and I sadly suspect that Hollywood will not coming knocking on Chou's door either, given his clear unease with English. The one person this movie would seem to indicate a clear future for is Christoph Waltz, given that he's soon to be following this up with another bad guy role in a new version of The Three Musketeers from - oh dear - Paul WS Anderson. Yes, Waltz does seem very likely to be a go-to villian in years to come, but I hope the parts he gets in the future are stronger than Chudnovsky. Predicated on a few key gags that never quite work - insecurity about his age, his name, and whether he's scary enough - it's a part that utterly pales in comparison to Waltz's star turn in Inglourious Basterds.

Does The Green Hornet make for an entertaining (if somewhat overlong) two hours? Sure. Will it be one you'll want to revisit? Unlikely. Yes, given the disparate nature of the artists involved it was always going to be an odd film, but in this case the entertainment value does not really outweigh the oddity. Still, it's often pretty funny and fairly exciting, so keep your expectations in check and you may have fun.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Ridiculously overdue review - 'The Expendables'

Yes, Ka-Boomski is back in business, folks. I assure you, when I started this little action movie blog last summer, I fully intended to be more prolific with it than I have been. I guess there are a great many factors as to why I've neglected this blog; primarily lack of time, in the face of a busy home life and my duties at Brutal As Hell. But not only have I not had time to write about action movies; I haven't had time to see many, either.

Indeed, I didn't even get around to seeing this film - The Expendables - on the big screen. And that was a cause of some anxiety for me. Because it was my excitement for this film, more than any other, that was most directly responsible for my decision to start up Ka-Boomski. In bringing together that which Empire quite rightly declared "the most awesome action cast ever assembled," and in so doing whipping up a frenzy in the hearts and loins of generations of action movie lovers, Sly Stallone made me remember just what it was I loved about the shoot-'em-up flicks I grew up on. The way these movies gave so little regard to taste, decency or subtlety, and presented us with joyous spectacles of rampant destruction, purely and simply for our amusement. Movies in which bigger, bloodier and more destructive was the only way to go. Movies in which the idea of toning it down for a PG-13 would be laughed out of the office.

But not only that... these, at their best, were movies with a real sense of scale, pace, character, and atmosphere. I'm talking the likes of The Terminator, Robocop, Predator, Die Hard, Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Lethal Weapon. Even Road House. These are not the 'mindless' entertainment some would write them off as. No, they're not especially intellectual, but that is not their purpose. They serve to get the viewer's blood pumping, to wrap them up in their bullet-ridden dreamscapes, and they achieve that first and foremost via good storytelling and good filmmaking. They are the work of people who understand the craft of filmmaking.

I'm pretty certain Stallone is such a person. He single-handedly wrote all six Rocky movies, and directed four of them. He had a hand in all the Rambo scripts, as well as directing the last. Indeed, he contributed to the scripts of most of his movies. He has always balanced out those duties with performing, and in most instances he has been largely successful.

The Expendables is not such an instance.

It's not just a case of "it could never be the movie we wanted it to be." It would be too easy to use that excuse, to insist that action fanatics so anxious to see their favourite stars sharing the screen would never be satisfied; that inevitably one or two stars wouldn't get as much to do as the others; that some of their other favourite stars weren't featured at all. Absolutely, there are plenty of people out there whose principle complaint is the absence of Kurt Russell, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes, Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow, Tony Jaa, Mark Dacascos, Michael Jai White. I'm sure there are even some bemoaning the absence of Michael Dudikoff, Thomas Ian Griffith and John Cena. Christ, some might even wonder why Vin Diesel and The Rock aren't in it. All these complaints are understandable, but ultimately no big deal. Stallone really did put the best action cast of our time together, even with the presence of such (to date) lesser cinematic figures as Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Steve Austin.

No, the problem isn't the tough guys Sly neglected to enlist. It's the writing and directing he neglected to give his full attention to.

Why assemble so kick-ass a crew when you're going to put them through so pedestrian an exercise in action cinema? Why have them hone their moves and sculpt their physiques when it's all going to be so poorly shot and edited you can hardly follow the action? Why promote an 80s practical aesthetic for the most part, then piss all that goodwill away with weak CG blood, explosions and fire?

Why give snippets of backstory and subplot to some characters and leave others pretty much blank slates? A team movie means focus spread evenly across the team. Predator and Aliens managed that; hell, so did Red Dawn. The Expendables doesn't even come close. The sad truth it isn't a team movie at all; it's another Stallone movie, but with a slightly bigger supporting cast. At a stretch we might call it a buddy movie, given that a good portion of the action follows Stallone's Barney and Statham's Lee, with a smidgen of the spotlight saved for Li's Yin Yang - yes, they really did name him that - and Lundgren's Gunner. Okay, Lundgren got lucky namewise. He also got himself potentially the most interesting role, as the Expendable who goes rogue and sides against them (distinct echoes of Waingro in Heat, I feel). But again this presents a missed opportunity, as this conflict which should have significantly fuelled the story is never utilised to its full potential. Ultimately it results in one semi-decent chase sequence and fight scene, then we don't see Lundgren again for at least the last thirty minutes, bar a bewildering reappearance in the disappointingly benign closing scene.

All this considered it's really no surprise that Stallone, Statham, Li and Lundgren were the first names announced for this movie (indeed, bar Lundgren they're also the only actors to get their name up before the title in the opening credits). Couture and Crews - we really never get a sense of who they are. They're just there. Crews might make cracks about Li's height, and Couture might be game enough to joke about his cauliflower ears (and some vague bullshit about being in therapy), but that's about the long and short of it. Indeed, such cracks about the physicalities of the cast proliferate throughout, with Stallone and Mickey Rourke (who looks like he just wandered in from the set of Iron Man 2 and who, let's be blunt, has no reason to be in the film at all) making fun of Statham's baldness, Eric Roberts calling Lundgren a giant, and so on and so forth. Strangely enough, about the only person who doesn't get the recieving end of any looks-related abuse is Stallone himself, despite the fact that he looks like a leather-skinned punchbag after a few too many bad facelifts. (Funny that, eh. Ahem.) Which serves to underline that, while it may masquerade as an ensemble piece, The Expendables is really a one-man show. And in this case, that one man was taking on far more than he could realistically handle.

The Expendables was by no means an unattainable goal. I've no doubt that it really could have been the explosive epic we were dreaming of, with only some minimal adjustments to the script, and someone else in the director's chair; someone able to commit themselves 100% to that job, rather than spreading themselves thinly across the whole thing like Stallone has. Unfortunately, the movie we're lumbered with is just a mess. Ain't that a shame.