‘Expend4bles’ Review: The Latest Installment of the Action Series Is Dull and Tasteless

It’s perhaps time to retire the clumsy “Expendables” franchise starring Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham

The first thing you need to know about “Expendables 4” is that its studio somehow made the grating decision to fashion its title as “Expend4bles.” It’s a needless spelling challenge for a dull and vulgar flick with a lot of empty-calories muscle, but little-to-no skill or fun to spare. The second thing you need to know is, that insertion of “4” is, unfortunately, just about the most clever thing the fourth installment of this star-studded action series has to offer.

There is always a lot of touchiness out there in defense of such movies, usually from those who guard one’s right to “shut one’s brain off and just enjoy.” But as the “John Wick” franchise and the entirety of the “Mission: Impossible” series continue to prove time and time again, there is indeed a stylish and cinematic way to pull off fun and thoroughly entertaining action fare that is also clever and awe-inspiring to watch on the big screen with all their technical glory — even in our era of such low filmic expectations.

In those departments, keep your expectations in check throughout “Expend4bles,” directed by Scott Waugh and written by a crowded team that includes Kurt Wimmer, Tad Daggerhart and Max Adams. Unless your definition of awe-inspiring is a vile movie where throats that get gleefully punctured and sliced are a dime a dozen and body parts explode like confetti, there won’t be a lot of reason for you to stick around for this one.

On an alarming note, not even children are safe from the dreadful pleasure “Expend4bles” takes in blowing up people’s brains. In an early scene, a young kid learns this the hard way when he is murdered at gunpoint, an incident that the camera technically (and thankfully) doesn’t show, but lingers there just a second too long to make one wonder whether it would have rather put it on display.

The kid is… well, someone’s son in Libya. (Bear with me, as “Expend4bles” isn’t as into building its characters as it is into witnessing their demise.) He falls victim to a ruthless arms dealer’s scheme after seeing his mother get murdered in front of his dad, who’s being held hostage at gunpoint.

Rahmat (Iko Uwais) is the notorious baddie in question, having stolen the type of nuclear detonators that could start — wait for it — World War III. And our ragtag team of avenging Expendables, a seemingly indestructible clan of cream-of-the-crop mercenaries, are on the hunt for him as well as his unknown boss — on the heels of a rare failure of a mission that sees the death of one of their own.

Rest assured that everything will be resolved to provide the happiest outcome imaginable when the film finally reaches its twisty yet predictable end. But in the meantime, you’ll be stuck being bored as you follow both returning and brand-new armed fighters that the film repeatedly captures in slow-motion as they walk towards the screen to draw cheers from the audience.

Among them are the tough-as-nails but softhearted Barney (Sylvester Stallone), his wisecracking right-hand bestie Christmas (Jason Statham), his new girlfriend and teammate Gina (Megan Fox, sporting inexplicably perfect hair and nightclub makeup), Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner and others played by the likes of Tony Jaa, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Andy Garcia as the team’s chief suit, Marsh. Yes, you will get a dose of 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P” here, although you should just turn your attention to the upcoming “Anatomy of a Fall” for an actually inventive use of that famous track.

What you won’t get is dexterously directed and choreographed fight sequences or a reason to care about the escalating mayhem on the screen. In fairness, a segment set on a massive cargo ship, where the clan has to survive an attack in order to pursue their vague mission, pumps some excitement into the picture. That is, some mazy action sequences and a scene which follows the ship on a sudden 180-degree turn finally bringing on some excitement. But the clumsiness elsewhere quickly flattens whatever pleasure is to be had from this rare moment of visual intrigue.

Even the much-hyped detonation, when it finally happens in the midst of the ocean, doesn’t deliver the big and bold cinematic splash the story continually hints at. All you’re left with is a painfully self-aware flick trying to own its tastelessness. Turns out, it needn’t try so hard.