What is the mission? To overthrow the corrupt dictator, General Garza (David Zayas), who rules a remote South American island named Vilena. Once Barney and Lee make it to Vilena through a female contact, Lacy (Charisma Carpenter), it turns out that Garza is not entirely the man in charge. Rather the real villain behind the corruption is (excuse me while I bring up the other action guest list) rogue CIA agent James Munroe (Eric Roberts, in all his hammy, sniveling, cigar-chomping glory) who leads his own gang which includes his right-hand henchman, Paine (Steve Austin) and The Brit (Gary Daniels).
So why isn’t this film more fun than it is? Mainly because the dialogue in the screenplay by Stallone and his co-writer Dave Callaham starts to really clang. Of course, most of the B-grade action movies of the past did not contain the most scintillating lines either but there was a way in which many of those movies (intentionally or not) turned their cheesiness to campy fun by being so on-the-nose about the absurd plot and situations going all around them. This film has little to none of that and rather makes a poor attempt to make us "care" about the camaraderie of the Expendables and the seriousness of the mission, all of which are awfully trite and predictable.
In fact, the screenplay, which half the time is strangely consistent in conjuring up three-word sentences like “Are you crazy?” “Not so funny,” and “Let her go,” becomes so leaden that we just wait for something to blow up. Unfortunately, beyond the efficient opening scene, the action scenes (most of which are found in the last 30 minutes) only work in fits and starts. There are times when the close-up shooting and quick-cut editing is effective in trying to show how fast these guys can move, in particular the way with which Statham is quite handy with knives. Much of the time, however, that frenetic shooting and editing style becomes repetitive and reduces the action to a mere series of indiscernible kills.
Among the cast, Statham comes off best, as his character’s handy knife weaponry fits best with the film’s quick-cut style. Meanwhile, Stallone, probably with some Botox help, actually looks a lot better in this film than he did in the last Rambo, although some viewers will howl at the most violent scene in the film that is pretty much a direct replica scenario from Rambo. The one who gets the most shortchanged, however, is Jet Li. He is a good sport for his willingness to blend in with this all-American action gang (even at the expense of being the butt of jokes poked at his shorter height). But his more realistic wushu martial arts background does not mesh with the rest of the outrageous, '80s style action and Stallone does not know how to integrate it more into the action (which is likely why there is not much martial arts fighting at all). And truth be told, Jet Li was my favorite action hero from my childhood, which makes it all the more disheartening.