The fact that we even made it to a fourth Expendables film is surprising in its own right. A vanity project from Sylvester Stallone’s mind, the first film was somewhat entertaining — a group of misfit mercenaries who take on the jobs no one else can or should do, played by a ragtag collection of older actors (Stallone, Dolph Lundgren), while also featuring some newer blood (Jason Statham, Randy Couture). Each film has expanded that cast, like an off-brand Fast and Furious film, to include everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Ronda Rousey.
For three films, this formula has … well, maybe not worked so much as it’s allowed for some reasonably enjoyable viewing. None of them are good, mind you, but there was always enough gonzo action and middle-to-late-aged dude-bro charisma to keep the films from tottering under the weight of their own doofus dialogue and haphazard writing.
Expendables 4 — or Expend4bles, God help me - throws all of that out the window, off a cliff, and into a dumpster that’s filled with dead fish. It is resolutely terrible, far beyond any sort of guilty pleasure viewing. There is no pleasure to be found in this fourth film, only guilt. Only the hot, clammy shame of your peers knowing that you willingly submitted to such an absolute masterpiece of ineffectual filmmaking.
The plot? Who gives a shit. It’s stupid from the get-go. The Expendables are sent to Libya to steal back nuclear triggers from a terrorist (played by the shamefully underused Iko Uwais, who deserves far better) and his gang of goons. They fail their mission, and their leader — Barney (Stallone) — is killed in the process. Oh yeah, I’m spoiling this because if you’re still going to watch this after you’re done reading, you deserve bad things to happen to you. Anyway, the remaining team who have names like Easy Day and Christmas and Toll House or Toll Road or some dumb shit like that — played by Statham, Lundgren, Curtis Jackson III (aka 50 Cent), Randy Couture, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran and Sweet Jesus why, Megan Fox — are dispatched by a CIA hotshot named Marsh (Andy Garcia, bringing shame to his house and family) to get the triggers back and stop the bad guys.
Everything is terrible. From the wretched dialogue that reads like it was written by a pants-pissingly drunk 13-year-old, to the horrible writing, to the fact that this, an action movie filled with action stars, is somehow boring — none of it works. Other than Statham and Uwais, who are both gifted physical performers and show their skills off well enough, the combat is miserable. It’s sloppily shot and edited as if there was no room in the film’s $100 million budget for second takes. Soldiers run around with the barrels of their guns practically pointed under their own chins, punches and kicks clearly miss, stunt doubles are painfully obvious - I’m amazed I didn’t see anyone drop their gun or shit themselves onscreen. Most bizarrely is just how bad the action is — it’s sluggish, lethargic, uncreative, and features stunningly bad green screen. I’m not joking — the effects are literally, unexaggeratedly Asylum films levels of bad.
The film is directed by Scott Waugh, who doesn’t exactly have a distinguished resume but at least did something interesting with the film Act of Valor, the 2012 film about Navy SEALs that starred actual soldiers. There is nothing interesting here, no polish, no excitement, no humor. There’s a scene where Couture has to pee on a pipe to loosen it up so they can escape. And that’s it. That’s the joke. It’s probably the best joke in the film and it made me ball my fists and hate my boss. Other than Statham and Uwais (who probably doesn’t even know how to give less than 100%), it doesn’t even feel like anyone is trying.
Expend4bles is a miserable experience. It’s a profoundly unexciting, unfunny, stinking morass of lazy tropes and bad writing, directing, effects, choreography, you name it. It’s rare that one sees a film fail on this many levels, even one that you walk into with low expectations. I promise you, if you drop your expectations below the earth’s crust and into the lowest, vilest circle of hell, it will still not meet those expectations. It’s just pure bad cinema and no one should see it.
Oh, and Garcia is secretly the bad guy and Stallone comes back at the end, having faked his own death. Don’t you dare act upset or I’ll fire you from the internet.