For 4n utterly braindead and 4rtlessly cr4fted movie th4t feels like 4 fe4ture-length FMV cut-scene from 4 Sega CD g4me, “Expend4bles” would be a lot more p4inful if not for the fact that it’s so 4t pe4ce with its gener4l shittiness. Don’t get me wrong, the creative and aesthetic indifference behind this long-gestating action sequel — which arrives nine years after “Expendables 3,” but still well before people had time to get nostalgic for this already reheated ’80s revival junk — is remarkable even by the standards of a series that has always prided itself on being cinema’s most glorified direct-to-video project, the “Avengers” of Cialis.

The script, credited to Max Adams, Kurt Wimmer, and the awesomely-named Tad Daggerhart, feels like it was written by a frat boy trying to plagiarize “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” (including a guy code-named “Ocelot” but minus the meta stuff that makes that game so interesting), the action is cut together as if “Need for Speed” director Scott Waugh had explicit orders to make sure that Sylvester Stallone wasn’t the most incoherent thing in the movie, and the omnipresent CGI is so outrageously bad that basic shots of Jason Statham sitting in a Jeep somehow manage to seem less natural to the eye than anything in “Avatar: The Way of Water.” We’re talking about a supposedly $100 million film that has all the polish of a 70-year-old shipwreck that’s been dredged from the bottom of the ocean, barnacles and all. 

And yet, much as I’d usually take offense to such abject shoddiness, “Expend4bles” (sort of) won me over because of how unrepentantly it embraces that shoddiness as the soul of its brand. If the franchise was conceived from the hope that an entire constellation of fading action stars might be able to shine bright enough to compete with the blinding flash of superhero movies, the question it now exists to ask isn’t “remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled the multiplex?” so much as “remember when movies were totally unafraid to be giant pieces of shit?” Which isn’t to say that modern Hollywood doesn’t continue to churn out giant pieces of shit on a regular basis (“Fast X” is now streaming Peacock), only that it now refuses to own up to that reality.

Nothing is ever bad, it’s just “for the fans.” Nothing ever bombs, and Dwayne Johnson will tweet (“X”?) the studio accounting details to prove it. When an “Ant-Man” or “Shazam” sequel disappoints critics and audiences, its failure is chalked up to the greater machinations of a cinematic universe. 

“Expend4bles,” on the other hand, makes no excuses for itself. From the moment its opening chyron locates the action at “Gaddafi’s old chemical plant” (a hilariously casual way of describing an abandoned Libyan factory, and one made that much funnier by the later scene in which a toothpick-chewing Andy Garcia refers back to it as “Gaddafi’s old chemical plant”), this movie is fully committed to the same “who gives a fuck?” attitude that sustains its characters in the face of certain death. You think you don’t care about “Expend4bles”? Just wait until you see how little this thing cares about itself. It’s kind of awesome.

It’s impossible to unpack that idea any further without divulging what happens in the first 20 minutes of the film, so if anyone reading this has spent the last decade waiting to find out what happens to the mercenary likes of Barney Ross (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Statham), let’s just leave it at “a lot of Botox.” See you at the movies — they’re like dreams you never forget. 

The rest of you should know that not everyone survives the trip to Gaddafi’s old chemical plant, where a child-murdering terrorist by the name of Suarto Rahmat (Iko Uwais) is stealing nuclear detonators, and presumably not for good reasons. The Expendables airdrop onto the scene to save the day and unleash all sorts of obnoxiously fake CGI blood, with newcomers like Easy Day (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and Galan (Jacob Scipio, playing the super-horny son of Antonio Banderas’ absent Galgo) replacing Glen Powell, Ronda Rousey, and several of the other “Expendables 3” cast members who’ve since graduated to movies that don’t feature Dolph Lundgren wearing a bolo tie. Lee disobeys a direct order by deciding to save Barney’s life instead of completing the mission, but his old buddy dies anyway. You see Stallone’s charred remains and everything. He’s definitely and indisputably dead forever, and there’s no chance whatsoever that his roasted corpse is just an elaborate set-up for one of the most amusingly inexplicable final scenes in the entire history of fiction.

Anyway, in true “Expend4bles” fashion, no one seems to care that Barney’s dead. They build a shrine to him at his favorite bar — a shrine that consists of his disembodied arm giving the middle finger — and go about their business. Lee is out, his girlfriend Gina (Megan Fox) is the Expendables’ new leader (a power dynamic they naturally resolve with a sex fight), and she’s hell-bent on proving that you can wear skin-tight leather pants in literally any situation. 

In this case, that situation is infiltrating a massive oil tanker off the coast of Vladivostok and stealing the detonators back from Suarto before his boss starts World War III for profit, an airtight plan that you can definitely expect to hear about in exacting detail. Gina is joined by her boss (Garcia), along with other Expendables like sniper Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), demolitions expert Toll Road (a vaguely Drax-like Randy Couture, whose cauliflower ear is an endless fount of comic relief), and a newcomer named Lash (Lacy Tran, serving up plenty of screen presence in a role that essentially amounts to looking good while insinuating that Toll has a small penis). It goes without saying that Lee also makes his way aboard the ship, though doing so requires some help from another franchise rookie: Tony Jaa, who offers this movie so much more skill and charisma than Waugh is able to capture that it feels like watching someone try to film a cheetah with a kinetograph. 

“Expend4bles” finds its footing once it plants its flag on the ship where the rest of the film will take place… a ship that survives 100 different explosions without so much as springing a leak before it ultimately splits in half and sinks under the ocean in less than a single minute (there’s a timer and everything). There’s something about confining all of this dumb energy to a single location that allows it to achieve a benign — at times almost pleasant — singularity of dumbness. 

Virtually every scene begins and ends with a character saying some variation of “it’s go time” or “let’s do this.” Bad guys can’t walk five inches without exploding in a barrage of CGI machine gun fire (“Expend4bles” heralds a return to the series’ foundational “R” rating, though its violence is so cartoonish that even the film’s gnarliest moments feel like they were made for children). One second Couture is peeing on a hatch in order to bust it open (the entire cast gathers around to sneak a peek at his penis), and the next Jackson is luring evil henchmen into a trap with a stereo that’s blasting the rapper-turned-actor’s own hit song (already back in the zeitgeist because of a cover version’s critical appearance in “Anatomy of a Fall”), a moment of brain-melting self-reflexivity that would point back at “Sons of Liberty” if not for the sense that the scene only exists because someone thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” and Waugh ran with it because The Expendables don’t play by the rules, baby!! At one point somebody triggers a nuclear bomb, because, as Nelson Muntz once said: “You gotta nuke something.”

And that seems to be the prevailing attitude behind the creation of this hideously constructed, beautifully 90-minute orgy of stupid ideas and silly executions: You gotta nuke something. These days, it’s almost refreshing to see a big dumb garbage sequel that doesn’t have any other agend4.

Grade: C

Lionsgate will release “Expend4bles” in theaters on Friday, September 22.

Leave a comment