Film Review: The Expendables 3

Third go-round for the aging mercenaries, this time fighting a ruthless arms dealer. Sylvester Stallone's B-movie formula is wearing thin.

The bar has been lowered for The Expendables 3, the latest entry in Sylvester Stallone's tongue-in-cheek B-movie series. Fun enough to watch but increasingly rote, the movie will find the bulk of its viewers once it departs from theatres.

The plot here, co-written by Stallone with Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, essentially repeats The Expendables 2. Barney (Stallone) and his gang free an imprisoned Expendable—in this case Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes)—before tackling Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), an evil arms dealer about to sell "thermobarbic" bombs to the highest bidder (Robert Davi).

After a shootout in Somalia leaves Caesar (Terry Crews) wounded, Barney is ordered by government operative Max Drummer (Harrison Ford) to bring Stonebanks back alive. Now that it's personal, the Expendables leader ditches his old crew and forms a new one with Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), a recruiter.

The younger Expendables include Mars (Victor Ortiz), Thorn (Glen Powell), Luna (Ronda Rousey) and Smilee (Kellan Lutz), all supposedly box-office bait for a new generation of moviegoers. Finding and training them takes up a big chunk of the movie, a surprising miscalculation by Stallone and his crew.

After a smartly staged opening jailbreak, The Expendables 3 has a lot of down time in which the stars banter ineffectually or stare stonily at the horizon. It's one thing for Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) to feel sorry for himself, given the actor's previous career. But expanding the Expendables orbit to include a non-action persona like "Frasier" star Grammer doesn't really pay off.

The movie's dramatic juice comes from a spry Wesley Snipes, who jokes about his tax-evasion sentence, and a dour Mel Gibson, fully inhabiting his role as chief villain. Antonio Banderas tries too hard as a motor-mouth killer. And someone should give Jet Li's agent a raise. Although billed fourth, the martial-arts star has about ten words of dialogue.

Stallone and his co-writers deserve credit for finding a way to bring a 1980s B-movie sensibility to the present. But this entry has long stretches that are so padded and lifeless you can practically feel the performers itching to cash their paychecks.

On the other hand, The Expendables 3 is about as B-movie as you can get these days. Even though the stunts aren't choreographed or shot very well, the action-filled climax works up a fine froth of energy. And even truncated scenes of Snipes, Jason Statham and, yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger letting off steam are better than none.

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