Yesss! The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone’s jobs program for fading action stars and Terry Crews, banked $34,825,135 in its opening weekend. It would have been $34,825,147, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger and part with $12 to see this movie. No force on Earth will stop me from Netflixing it and inviting a gender-mixed crowd over to polish off a 12-pack or two while we watch this thing some evening around Thanksgiving. But somehow the need to be able to water-cooler debrief The Expendables on Monday just did not feel as urgent as it should have.
No matter: We forestalled the armies of Canada that would’ve marched politely across our northern border had we shown weakness by allowing Eat, Pray, Love to win the weekend.
Still, The Expendables should have had me. I have never for one second stopped loving the 80s action flicks I first encountered on the subject-to-deterioration via overuse VHS format, or in those happy instances of lax MPAA ratings enforcement, the cinema. And the premise of The Expendables — a Dirty Dozen-type reunion tour/suicide mission by a team of dudes who in better times headlined action flicks all on their own — is unquestionably awesome.
So why couldn’t I commit?
I am so glad you asked. In order of increasing importance:
6) No Jean-Claude. The whole world has been waiting for the Muscles from Brussels to follow-up his moving and surprisingly persuasive performance as himself in 2008’s arthouse hit, JCVD. He reportedly was offered a part here but turned it down. If Sly had gone back and watched Double Impact again — I’m certain I needn’t remind you that’s the one where Van Damme plays twin brothers out to inflict some flying-spin-kick van-damage on the Triad in Hong Kong; must-view trailer here — he’d have found the means to pay Jean-Claude whatever he wanted. I think we’re all eager to know whether Van Damme, at age 49, can still do the splits between two chairs. His absence hurts like a pulled groin.
5) No Seagal. Yes, he’s had his lethal hands full being sued for sexual harassment and keeping Jefferson Parish, LA safe from the same kind of shirtless, sunburned drunk guys who have kept his career afloat, kind of, in its long winter of direct-to-video. But given his never-wholly-disproven claims of having performed actual black ops for the CIA, Seagal would’ve been invaluable both as an onscreen presence and a technical consultant. Semirelated: I cannot possibly recommend Outlaw Vern’s entrancing and hilarious Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal, highly enough.
4). No Chuck Norris. Oh, COME ON NOW. There are a lot of leftover 80s action heroes, but only one of them became a TV star and then an honest-to-Crom Internet meme. He is a multiplatform phenom with 100% brand awareness, and would be the only member of the team to have had the honor of being killed onscreen by Bruce Lee.
3). Willis/Schwarzenegger. The beneficiary of one of the most bombproof careers in cinema history, Bruce Willis remains a viable box office draw; perhaps because he can, you know, act, when he wants to, perhaps because Die Hard rocks just as hard the 89th time you see it as it did the first time. And Arnold? He’s been busy trying to run the Golden State and generally letting me down on Twitter. (Here‘s his only good post.) So you can see why both these guys would choose to confine their participation in The Expendables to a cameo. One of the trailers shows 64-year-old Sly and 63-year-old Arnold teasing each other about their weight. Dude, that’s the generational equivalent of the Pacino/DeNiro diner scene in Heat! My only objection is that IT’S IN THE FUCKING TRAILER. How awesome would it have been to encounter the single scene shared by this trio of titans as a genuine surprise?
2.) Edgar Wright. The writer/director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and Spaced, for British TV, before that, is the reason I made it a priority to see the delightfully original Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World right away. I didn’t know the source material, Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s comics, until I read about Wright’s intention to adapt them, and I have deliberately avoided video games, a huge element of this film, since college for fear my already-shaky impulse control would vanish completely. So I’m maybe not exactly the demo for this, but I loved it. My girlfriend did, too. The flick grossed $10.6 million — a figure punier than star Michael Cera’s chest, considering the marketing push Universal put behind this movie. They were pretty dumb to release it the same weekend as The Expendables.
But the main reason I couldn’t be motivated to see The Expendables?
1) Sly. As actor and director both. He has only himself to blame for his career problems. He never learned to laugh at himself the way Arnold did, and he wasn’t smart enough to hitch his wagon to filmmakers like James Cameron, John McTiernan, and Paul Verhoeven. Those guys have all become notorious for various reasons, but they were all on their way up in the 80s, and they all formed mutually beneficial creative partnerships with Arnold. Sly preferred to work with nobodies when he didn’t direct his movies himself, which is one reason few or none of his flicks have the rewatchability factor of the first two Terminator pictures, or Predator, or Total Recall. And yet Stallone insisted on directing The Expendables in addition to co-writing, producing, and starring in it, instead of getting some journeyman who knows how to make the art of war look artful. There are plenty of stalled action directors out there who could use a shot at reliving their squib-festooned glory days as surely as Dolph Lundgren could. I’m sure Andrew Davis or Renny Harlin would’ve taken your call, Sly.