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Sly Stallone has 'The Expendables' EXPLODING on the big screen

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Think about every action hero in cinematic history who has operated a firearmJet Li, Dolph Lundgren, and Slylvester Stallone in "The Expendables." Photo: www.latimes.com and chances are you will find them in "The Expendables."

Well maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit there, but honestly not by much. Sylvester Stallone (who in addition to starring in the film also directed and co-wrote the script with David Callaham) has kept a relatively low profile during the last decade or so. However, with his revival of the Rocky (2006's Rocky Balboa) and Rambo (2008's Rambo) franchises, he has proven that he still can draw at the box office. And chances are he will have another hit on his hands with "The Expendables," which pays homage to the action films of the '80's and '90's with its over the top "shoot 'em up"/"knock down drag out" action scenes.

In the film, Stallone plays Barney Ross, the leader of a group of mercenaries who is recruited by Mr. Church (played by Bruce Willis) to invade South America to takedown their dictator, General Garza. Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger  also has a cameo as Trench, who passes on the job offered by Church. When Church then offers a price of $5 million dollars for the operation to Ross, he checks out the territory along with Lee Christmas (played magnificently by Jason Statham) prior to beginning the mission. When the two barely survive the trip with their lives intact, they realize there is more to this operation than meets the eye. Turns out that the group would be heading into enemy territory to also dispose of James Munroe (Eric Roberts), who has an axe to grind with the American government. Munroe's right-hand man is Dan Paine, who is played by WWE Hall Of Famer "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.

Make no mistake, this isn't Shakespeare we're watching here, but Stallone will probably be the first to tell you that. He has indeed made some clunkers along the way (remember the Saturday Night Live skit with Norm MacDonald complaining that he was saved in a car accident by Judge Dredd? Classic), but what makes "The Expendables" work is the main cast of characters who get just enough screen time to where they compliment each other nicely. Moreover, the wonderfully "choreographed" action scenes are nothing to sneeze at either (particularly the scene which Ross and Statham escape the island on their seaplane). There is literally so much action going on at times that the viewer can lose sight of what is actually transpiring. With the majority of the cast no stranger to violent hand to hand combat (whether in real life or in movies), Stallone probably offered some direction, but from the looks of it some of them (mainly five-time Ultimate Fighting Champion Randy Couture) really didn't need it.

The humorous interplay amongst the cast (utilized most effectively with Stallone and Statham) is strong without coming off as corny. There is probably an action sequence every five minutes or so. And while not AS gory as the latest Rambo movie, the death toll and explosions at the conclusion of "The Expendables" most likely exceeds the previously mentioned film. In fact, the action scenes are so intense that Stallone suffered numerous injuries during the making of this movie. He is still in extraordinary shape at 64 and turns in a solid performance as Ross as does Roberts. Joe Vallee with Sylvester Stallone. Photo: Michael Piszek

However, the scene stealer in the movie is clearly Statham- who along with (but to a lesser extent) Jet Li  are given the majority of the acting and action scenes. Overall, this is Statham's biggest project to date, and he passes the test with flying colors. Other members of the team include former Philadelphia Eagle Terry Crews  and Couture (you know, the guy who says "Let's go princess" at the end of his commercials for his Tower 200 home gym). Stallone is also reunited with his Rocky IV  co-star Dolph Lundgren, who plays a sniper on the team whose role is a mystery of sorts. Mickey Rourke rounds out the gang as Tool, a former member-turned tattoo artist who gives Christmas a run for his money in the knife throwing department.

While it's pretty neat to see Stallone, Willis, and Schwarzenegger finally share the screen together (although it's only about four minutes), "The Expendables" has some weak points. The action scenes at times seem like a substitute for plot development- which has the potential to be greater than it was. Rourke is vastly underused and only appears in about four scenes throughout the film, and Crews and Couture remain on the sidelines for the most part (until it comes time to open a can of whoop ass, of course.)

Overall, I'd give "The Expendables" three and a half stars out of five. It doesn't take itself too seriously, passes quickly, is pretty funny despite the carnage, and sets itself up for a sequel.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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