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Film Review: Expend4bles

FILM REVIEW
EXPEND4BLES
Rated R
103 Minutes
Released September 22nd

Expend4bles could have been a fun thriller with cutting-edge action and layered characters. The 4th in the franchise, the story follows a motley crew of mostly older, misfit mercenaries who are expected to pull off impossible feats of battle against all odds. There is huge potential for comedy that’s left in the dust here. Director Scott Waugh and editor Michael Duthie use the shortcut of visual confusion rather than intricate choreography to trick the audience into sensing the chaos of battle. Waugh does the same with the story – it’s hard to follow. The characters, for the most part, are not fleshed out enough to make you care. Some of the dialogue is simplistic, overused phrases.

So why see the movie? First, Jason Statham, a British version of Tom Cruise, reprises his role as “Christmas.” You can see that he is in his element here. Statham is a professional athlete and expert martial artist. Prior to his acting career, he spent 12 years on the British Diving Team, winning awards in 10 Meter Platform and 3 Meter Springboard. In 1992, he was rated 12th in the world as a platform diver. He almost became a stuntman rather than an actor and has lobbied for a Stunts category in the Academy Awards. He calls stunt performers “unsung heroes.” Now, he is both an actor and stuntman, as he does most of his own stunts. This movie is a “highlights reel” of his work. 

Some members of the cast have, regrettably, little screen time. Megan Fox is an elite soldier, “Gina,” whose wardrobe reflects “out for a night at the club” rather than a gritty mercenary. An actor who has a quote by Nietzsche tattooed on her body should have been given a much more complex role. Iko Uwais, who plays “Rahmat,” is the grandson of a martial arts master. Uwais started learning Silat at the age of 10 and became a National Champion in 2005. Before his acting career took off, he was a driver for a telecommunications company. 

You may have seen Levy Tran on MacGyver or Shameless. Here, she plays one of the mercenaries, but her role seems like an afterthought. Tran is also a master of martial arts. She is of Vietnamese ancestry and grew up in San Jose, working as a Kindergarten teacher before becoming an embalmer. Her mortuary supervisor recognized her talents and told her, “You work with death every day. Go give life, and if it doesn’t work out, then come back, but for now…go live your life.”

The breakout star of the movie is Tony Jaa. The filmmakers could have done much more with him. He’s fascinating to watch, with a crackling energy eyes that say, “I know much more than you can see here,” and a noted ability to laugh at himself and at the situation. Jaa was born in Thailand, where his parents were elephant herders. As a kid, he was addicted to watching martial arts films, and he emulated Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li, teaching himself to jump extremely high and perform complex gymnastic moves in midair. He won a scholarship in physical education to attend college in Thailand, where he studied martial arts. Jaa is the best actor in this movie, a breath of fresh air, creating a magnetic personality for his role of “Decha,” even though he has little screen time.

There was so much talent in this movie to draw from, and the elite martial artists in the cast could have created fierce, intricate, and graceful fight scenes. The rich personalities of the actors could have endowed fascinating characters, and there were missed opportunities to forge a mood using exotic locations. However, the performances of Statham and Jaa make this movie worth seeing.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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