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Originally published August 12, 2010 at 12:03 AM | Page modified August 16, 2010 at 12:01 PM

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Movie review

'The Expendables': Heavy on action, testosterone, brutality

"The Expendables" is Sylvester Stallone's brutal, sometimes sly reinvention of "The Dirty Dozen" in Latin America.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2 stars

'The Expendables,' with Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, Eric Roberts, David Zayas, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture. Directed by Stallone, from a screenplay by Stallone and David Callaham. 103 minutes. Rated R for strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language. Several theaters.

Having exhausted Rambo and Rocky, Sylvester Stallone has rounded up action stars from several eras to reinvent "The Dirty Dozen" in Latin America.

The result is a surprisingly brutal bloodbath, heavy on the testosterone and the kinds of gut-wrenching sound effects that graphically suggest knives cutting through flesh and separating limbs. But it does have its sly moments.

A gang of mercenaries, led by Stallone and including Jet Li and Jason Statham, join together to take out a dictatorial general (David Zayas) in a fictional island country called Vilena. Of course, it can't be as simple as that; the general turns out to be a puppet, and so, for a while, are the men who intend to destroy him.

Eric Roberts plays a hissable former CIA operative (he's so hammy you know he can't be trusted), Mickey Rourke turns up as an ex-mercenary/nonparticipant (via a long monologue, he explains that he left his heart in Bosnia), while Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger appear in cameo roles (the governator has nothing more urgent to occupy his days?).

Dolph Lundgren plays a rebellious sniper who finds himself forced into opposing Stallone. There is less to do for Terry Crews (in the role of a long-barrel weapons specialist) and Randy Couture (a demolitions expert).

Stallone is calling the movie "The Expendables" — a title that works on more than one level. Indeed, it could apply to the entire cast. Their box-office glory days may be over, some of them are wrinkled and otherwise showing their ages, but together they appear to feel confident enough to give it one more try.

Stallone not only stars, he also directed and cowrote the script. He performed similar duties with "Rocky II," which turned out to be a watchable sequel, and "Rocky III" and "Rocky IV," which were travesties of the original "Rocky."

This time the result is more of a mixed bag. Stallone and Schwarzenegger trade insults that are supposed to be funny, Li's slight height becomes a running gag, and several of the opening scenes are clearly, intentionally comic.

It's as if Stallone had studied Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and attempted to equal its more outrageous moments. Unfortunately, there's a limit to the effectiveness of this kind of influence.

What, for instance, is one to make of the exchange between a gorgeous Vilena freedom fighter who, independent of all narrative logic, is rescued from prison by Stallone?

"How are you here?" she wants to know.

"I just am," says Stallone, with a suddenly messianic flair.

Immediately the ick factor increases about tenfold.

John Hartl:

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