Nine years have passed since the last installment of the Expendables franchise — first forged in 2010 as a revved-up reverie to revive or regurgitate action superstars of yore. Time was a framed picture in the Planet Hollywood you ate at once was the only place to find Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis in the same spot. No longer! Plus, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Chuck Norris, Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer, Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas interchangeably tagged along across three films — with Eric Roberts, Jean-Claude van Damme and Mel Gibson as villains … some of them even named Vilain!
Somehow, the initial film’s indifferent writing, inept cinematography and indiscernible editing launched a franchise. Meanwhile, 2014’s The Expendables 3 felt 800 minutes long, included more mugging than most Police Academy sequels and stupidly softened its splatter for a PG-13 rating. (“Watchable” being this franchise’s ceiling, The Expendables 2 hit it in 2012 by bringing together everyone you want to see fighting simultaneously, maintaining the fastest pace and delivering an aesthetic that could be called the least cheap.)
That brings us to Expendfourbles — the funniest possible pronunciation of Expend4bles, a marketing-mangled title unseen since Takthreen (or Tak3n). It’s a legacyquel to a project predicated on legacy. Charitably, that is a hat on a hat. Honestly? It’s a perversion of the world’s natural order right up there with septuagenarian pregnancies.
Stallone and Lundgren are back, as are their “younger” counterparts played by Jason Statham and Randy Couture. What about Li, Rourke, Norris, Ford, Grammer, Snipes, Banderas and Arnie? All AWOL and replaced by Megan Fox, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran, Tony Jaa and Andy Garcia. It’s OK. You need not discern if your head is shaking from disdain or disbelief that some would earn last-name-only poster billing.
Beyond those with producer credits (tossed out here like candy at a parade and rivaled in number only by barbers, drivers and hairstylists), it’s also a head-scratcher to imagine anyone for whom this particular franchise remains a potent fantasy. There are certainly shorter erectile dysfunction advertisements and with more persuasive bar settings and backdrops to boot. (The house style of derpy digital smear is so liberally applied here that you wonder if the entire effects crew might take the Alan Smithee credit.) Forget an erection that lasts four hours. Expend4bles can’t bother to maintain excitement that lasts four minutes.
Now name-dropped as such by the terrorists they’re tracking, the Expendables are this time hunting for detonators stolen by bad guys who hope to ignite a nuke and, with it, World War III. In other words, it’s the Fall Down version of Fallout, complete with its own HALO jump. The chase starts at “Gaddafi’s old chemical plant” — as labeled onscreen and verbally described by Andy Garcia as an intelligence liaison — and ends on a giant boat, where the only amusing moment finds Couture pissing on a bilge to facilitate escape.
In between? Given how this is essentially a solo film for Statham’s character, it’s The Expendables Presents: Lee Christmas. When he goes off book in Libya with disastrous consequences, his fellow Expendables say “no, no, no” to Christmas staying in the group. Hip, hip, hooray, it’s Christmas vacation as the knife specialist goes rogue on his own recon mission.
After Stallone (mostly) went it alone in the threequel, Expend4bles is the second straight entry to essentially sideline the group conceit on which, you know, the entire franchise is sold. At least you won’t care. After all, next to this bunch of buffoons, Statham is practically Richard Burton.
Fox brings none of the persuasive physicality she displayed in 2020’s shockingly good straight-to-VOD Rogue. Instead, her stunt double performs the same thigh-flying takedown that, nearly 15 years after the introduction of Black Widow, remains the only female fight move most choreographers can remember. To boot, the romantic chemistry between her and Statham is all fizz, no rizz; in a moment of heroic endangerment, Fox shoots Statham a look that’s less like a lover and more like a woman unable to escape a man farting next to her on a train. After a scorching turn in Bad Boys For Life, Scipio plays the son of Banderas’s character here, with an impersonation on the level of a one-season-and-done featured player on Saturday Night Live in a 12:52 a.m. skit.
It’s no surprise that Jaa, a blistering Thai martial artist, will renege on the renunciation of violence vowed by the former Expendable he’s playing. Neither is it a shocker that Expend4bles is another Hollywood movie that hacks to shit the skill and smoothness with which Jaa fights in his native productions. The film doubles down on this dodginess with Iko Uwais (of The Raid: Redemption) as the villain, who at least boasts a neat pair of sharpened billy clubs.
Jaa and Uwais land quite a few blows … as heard in surround-speaker foley effects. Both fighters are too good not to let teases of talent skitter through, but Expend4bles does to them and longtime stunt guru Brian Smrz what it did to colleagues Spiro Razatos and Chad Stahelski in earlier outings — slice and dice their work all to hell in sloppy editing.
Tran is essentially just Couture’s lust interest. Meanwhile, Couture and Lundgren are … there. Like they’ve always been. Jackson’s second-billed turn gives Jet Li a run for this franchise’s money on the highest credit for the least amount of work. Allergic to eye contact, slow with a quip and impressively indifferent to almost anything that transpires, 50 is here solely for the check and the tee-hee titter that a trio of writers tries to wring from using his song “P.I.M.P.” Instead, it only reminds you 50 is pushing 50 and that his own glory days are well behind him.
Meanwhile, Garcia delivers an alternately vacant and bellowing performance. This atypical abnegation of the actor’s inherent charisma is already worrisome. It’s given a troubling dimension in the end credits, which cite a dialogue coach specific to Garcia. Why would a nearly 40-year veteran, and easily the best cumulative performer here, need a dialogue coach? It makes you wonder whether Garcia may be battling a medical affliction akin to the one that has forced Bruce Willis into retirement.
Expend4bles wants you to once again pump a fist for the force of old age. Given its unintentional reminders of time’s ravages, you’ll be more inclined to rub your eyes in disbelief.