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Movies for Grownups

The Expendables & Eat Pray Love

These two summer films have more in common than you might think.

The Expendables

— Karen Ballard/Lionsgate

The Expendables (R)

Eat Pray Love (PG-13)

En español  |  So, what'll it be: a shot of testosterone or an overdose of estrogen? In The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone, all eyes and lips, darts from shadow to shadow, automatic weapon in hand, in search of a villain (and any villain will do) to blow to smithereens.

In Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts, all eyes and lips, flounces her way around the globe, fork in hand, in search of her middle-aged self. He's coming to terms with a lifetime of mercenary violence. She's questioning everything she's ever believed. He finds wisdom from a burned-out tattoo artist. She encounters a thoughtful old fella who helps put it all into focus. He discovers the woman of his dreams on an exotic Caribbean island. She roams all the way to Bali before she finds her soul mate.
In short, The Expendables and Eat Pray Love are the very same movie. Up to a point.

"Mayhem" would be the word to describe the spirit of The Expendables in the same way "dust-up" would be the word to describe the Second World War. For there is so much carnage, so very much grotesque disfigurement, so incredibly much destruction in any given five minutes of The Expendables that by the film's end I would have been unsurprised to find, in the place of chewed bubble gum, human entrails on the theater floor.

The Expendables
delivers precisely what it promises, which is to say the cinematic equivalent of a rocket-fuel-laden tanker truck plowing into the mixing room of a nitroglycerine factory. Stallone, who I’ve always felt is underrated as a bread-and-butter filmmaker, propels his story smartly from one überviolent set piece to another. Shotgunned bodies bisect with alarming ease, severed limbs fly like shrimp at Benihana, fireballs erupt as if the very gates of Hell have been cracked open.

We're not too many steps here beyond the stylized grotesqueries of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies, and Stallone does a nice job of approximating QT's winking acknowledgement that it's all a bit too much, isn't it? The only real acting here comes from a wonderful Mickey Rourke as a pipe-smoking tattoo artist and former member of Stallone's crew. The film comes to a screeching halt for his remarkable monologue about regret and redemption. At its end, Stallone, now convinced he must act on a humanitarian impulse rather than a mercenary one, backs silently, respectfully from the room. It's a nice coda to a small gem of a scene.

But really, excess is what The Expendables is all about. I would guess the body-count numbers in the hundreds, and they all die, one at a time, at the hands of a who’s who of action stars both old and new: Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Transporter star Jason Statham, and Everybody Hates Chris costar Terry Crews, who has the best character name of all: "Hale Caesar."  Much has been made of the cameo appearances of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger: Their short scene together at the film's start is a priceless piece of film history, a summit meeting of the past 30 years' biggest action stars, each of whom rewrote the genre in his own way. It lasts but a moment, and the editing makes it appear the three might never have actually been on the same set at the same time; but it is electric nonetheless, a classy appetizer before Stallone plops down in front of us his bloody, raw main course.

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