“THE EXPENDABLES 3” // DELIGHTFUL // PACKS A LOT OF TESTOSTERONE

More bang for your buck is what you get with “The Expendables 3.” Sylvester Stallone reprises his role as good guy mercenary-for-hire Barney Ross, with Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), and Caesar (Terry Crews) at his side. Unlike “The Expendables 2” (which I enjoyed thoroughly), “Expendables 3” shuns most of the clever one-liners from earlier films that the hard-knuckled screen icons appeared in during their prime. Nevertheless, co-star Arnold Schwarzenegger gets to recycle his “Predator” line “Get to the chopper,” and his “Commando” line “I lied.” “Red Hill” director Patrick Hughes and original “Expendables” scenarist Sylvester Stallone along with “Olympus Has Fallen” co-scribes Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt struggle but succeed to infuse enough spontaneity into this predictable but entertaining nonsense that foregoes the blood & gore of the two earlier R-rated entries. The worst thing about the third “Expendables” epic is that you know what will happen even though it is gratifying when it occurs. Unfortunately, neither martial arts sensation Jet Li nor multiple welterweight boxing champion Victor Ortiz has a chance to display their respective skills. Unless we’re given a chance to catch the three-and-a-half-hour rough cut of the film, we’ll never know if they did show-off their skills.
Those who’ve seen the first two “Expendables” will enjoy the allusions to those actioneers. Barney Ross had to hump it in “The Expendables” when he scrambled hell-bent-for-leather down a dock toward his seaplane as hundreds of bullets perforated the planks at his heels. “Expendables 3” gives Stallone another chance to hump it under conditions far worse than anything that he faced in the first film. While the action has a delightful, dog-eared quality to it, the spectacle of star power compensates for the déjà vu familiarity. Fresh out of real-life prison for tax evasion, “Blade” star Wesley Snipes, who went toe-to-toe with Stallone in the 1993 thriller “Demolition Man,” is still an action star to respect. Mel Gibson makes an awesome adversary who we are told co-founded the mercenary force with Barney. The “Lethal Weapon” star qualifies as a first-rate dastard with treachery to spare. The biggest surprise is “Zorro” star Antonio Banderas, who is cast as a loquacious Hispanic suffering from survivor’s guilt. “Indiana Jones” star Harrison Ford replaces Bruce Willis as Stallone’s new CIA contact. Clocking in at a rather lengthy 127 minutes, “Expendables 3” pits our heroes against an army of evil antagonists equipped with tanks and helicopters galore. From its adrenaline-laced opening sequence involving a slam-bang aerial rescue from a prison train to its war-as-hell finale, this polished Lionsgate release should assuage the appetites of action fans until the rumored fourth installment comes out.
“Expendables 3” opens with an explosive, rip-snorting, action set-piece as Barney flies a helicopter with Lee Christmas, Gunnar, and Toll Road riding shotgun with automatic weapons. They are out to rescue one of their old comrades, Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) who is locked up like a serial killer on a heavily-fortified train bound for a maximum security prison. Naturally, bullets fly by the billions, and the villains cannot hit the side of an invisible barn, while the bodies pile up with little in the way of blood & gore. Interestingly, “Expendables 3” is the first in the franchise to obtain a PG-13 rating. Once aboard Barney’s chopper heading home, Doctor Death borrows Gunnar’s enormous, pig-sticker of a knife and shaves himself. I haven’t any action hero shave himself with a knife since Lee Van Cleef did in the 1968 Spaghetti western “Death Rides A Horse.” Anyway, Barney needs Doctor Death for a job in Somalia, and everything appears to be going splendidly for our aged but agile mercenaries until Barney gets the shock of his life. A villain shows up who turns out to be one of the Expendables’ founding fathers, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson of “Lethal Weapon”), and he shows Barney that Barney’s best days may be behind him. Stonebanks has Barney in his gun sights, but he decides to blast away at Caesar before he blows the rest of them to kingdom come. Naturally, Barney and his pals survive this trial by combat, but our rugged, Spartan protagonist believes he needs new blood to nab the elusive Stonebanks. Several well-dressed CIA goons approach Barney outside the New Orleans hospital where Caesar’s life hangs by a thread. Drummer (Harrison Ford of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) isn’t happy about the turn of events. Nevertheless, he wants to use Barney again to capture Stonebanks. The inevitable catch is that Barney must deliver the sadistic Stonebanks to The Hague, where Stonebanks will be put on trial as a war criminal. You see, Stonebanks has been selling weapons of every description for twenty years to anybody who can afford them. Originally, Barney thought he had killed Stonebanks, but the latter’s body armor enabled him to survive the ordeal. Now, Stonebanks surrounds himself with an army of hired guns.
After Barney delivers the bad news to his brothers-in-arms, he contacts a scruffy character, Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer of “Down Periscope”), to help him assemble a new team. The action slows down a mite during this phrase of the story so these two guys can audition replacements. Anybody who’s seen any of “The Magnificent Seven” westerns knows what to expect during this interim. Barney enlists four youngsters who qualify as the toughest of the tough. Mars (Victor Ortiz), Smilee (Kellam Lutz of “Twilight”), Thorn (Glen Powell of “The Dark Knight Rises”), and a gal named Luna (MMA fighter Ronda Rousey) comprise his new team. This robust quartet can do virtually anything that Barney’s old team did but with greater tech savvy. The catch here is that Mel Gibson’s roguish Stonebanks is no slouch and has more than a few tricks hidden up his sleeve. Although all the usual clichés appear intact throughout “Expendables 3,” this testosterone-laden release packs more blood, sweat, and sneers than most entire action franchises.

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