Getting Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson in your film must involve a package deal with one of the musician’s hit singles. There’s simply no other way to justify the ludicrous appearance of a boombox blaring ‘P.I.M.P.’ on a freighter in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean mid-rescue mission. But then, The Expendables 4 isn’t much for logic, or anything else worthwhile for that matter.
Outgoing The Expendables head honcho Sylvester Stallone’s Barney Ross takes a backseat for this new movie, placing Jason Statham’s Lee Christmas as the lead. Lee’s not in charge of the titular team — that job’s given to his partner, Gina (Megan Fox), a franchise newcomer, but he gets most of the screentime through rescuing his cohorts and saving the day.
Initially, the mercenaries are tasked with stopping a terrorist from getting the keys to nuclear weapons; when that goes south, they have to prevent detonation on a cargo ship near Russian territory. Gina has regulars Gunner Jansen (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture), as well as fellow newbies Easy Day (Jackson), Galan (Jacob Scipio), and Lash (Levy Tran) in her squad, all of whom spend most of the action movie in a holding cell.
Be under no illusions — this isn’t really an ensemble piece. Statham, poised to take over The Expendables literally and figuratively after Stallone’s departure, is the main hero and star. When he’s kicked out for contributing to the opening blunder, he secretly tails his former colleagues.
They get ambushed, leaving him to do nearly everything himself. The Fast and Furious cast member stabs and shoots his way around the boat, quipping in droll humor. Meanwhile, Gina and the rest ponder how to escape, settling on a method that involves prolonged onscreen urination.
Plot description hardly makes for insightful criticism, but The Expendables 4 contains so many choices that beggar belief, it’s difficult to resist. Directed by Scott Waugh, every limp twist comes with another moment of sheer, head-scratching stupidity, so much so you wonder whether they really did just make things up as they went along.
Legendary Indonesian actor Iko Uwais portrays movie villain Suarto Rahmat, and coming from the likes of The Raid and The Night Comes For Us, he’s poised for a huge breakout turn in an American production. An accomplished martial artist and stuntman, he’s utterly sidelined, reduced to negotiating through a screen before being shoved aside for the real baddie, barely even clenching his fist on camera.
At least Uwais has company, since Tony Jaa helps Statham get from Thailand to international waters. Jaa’s given slightly more to do, jumping into a skirmish on deck against some henchmen, but even then, it’s limited and a severely wasted opportunity that Jaa and Uwais don’t get time to go hand-to-hand.
My use of the term “skirmish” is loose, by the way. The Expendables 4 never finds any real momentum, and when the team do start to get cornered, there’s no tension because most of them seem unphased by all the bullets flying around. They aren’t bloodied or bruised, or show any tangible exhaustion. You’ll be more exhausted watching this expensive nonsense unfold.
Most of them get some small bit of time to kick some ass, but clear body doubles and overediting make it all look like one of thousands of cookie-cutter thriller movies. The right hand man to Uwais seems ready for a bout against Tran – a fleeting bit of excitement – until he trips up and KOs himself.
If you saw this without the title card or any knowledge of the previous installments, you might think it satire in the line of Hot Shots! Part Deux, though distinctly less clever or self-effacing. Statham grabbing a motorbike with machine guns attached for a chase through the bowels of the barge would fit right into a marathon of the Fast and Furious movies in order, and if the whole film was like that it’d be a roaring good time.
But it’s not, and for something that purportedly cost $100 million to produce, the film comes across as shockingly cheap. Very apparent green screen and dodgy effects galore and The Expendables 4 cast being the smallest yet (without any name value cameos like Harrison Ford or Arnold Schwarzenegger) really make you wonder where the money went.
There’s an odd, uncomfortable nihilism, too. After a period of sobriety, Lundgren’s character turns back to alcohol mid-fight and it’s like Popeye ingesting spinach, a deeply unfunny, flippant, and retrograde depiction of addiction and chemical dependence. Meanwhile, a guy whom we see Statham and Stallone beat up in a local bar at the start gets killed and laughed at, seemingly for the crime of holding Barney to a fair bet.
If you’ve ever wondered how to explain the difference between silly and stupid, The Expendables 4 makes it easy. The Fast and Furious films are silly: over-the-top, exaggerated, explosive, and extra in every way imaginable. The Expendables 4 is stupid: nonsensical, inane, cynical, and plainly boring. Something’s expendable here alright, but it’s not the characters.
A limp entry in a franchise that should really pack it in. Not even the fourth best Jason Statham movie this year, and we’ve only had four.