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The Expendables

Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service

The only thing higher than the body count is the testosterone level in "The Expendables" (Lionsgate/Millennium), a brutally violent action movie that teams, for the first time, some of Hollywood's biggest tough guys with an assortment of professional sports stars.

The result is "The Dirty Dozen" on steroids, with much more brawn but far less acting chops.

The soundtrack to this very loud film includes the 1970s Thin Lizzy hit "The Boys Are Back in Town," and indeed they are. Leading a band of misfit mercenaries is Barney Ross, played by Sylvester Stallone, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay with David Callaham. Barney, not surprisingly, combines the wit and sensitivity of Rocky Balboa with the lethal weaponry of Rambo.

Barney's crew is called the Expendables, and each member has a knack for handling guns, knives, or explosives. There's Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Toll Road (mixed martial artist Randy Couture), and Hale Caesar (ex-NFL-star-turned-actor Terry Crews).

The spiritual guru and deal broker for this brotherhood is Tool (Mickey Rourke), a soulful tattoo artist who leaves his mark—literally—on every member.

There's trouble in paradise—in this case a South American country called Vilena—and Barney and Lee go on a reconnaissance mission. There they find rogue CIA agent James Monroe (Eric Roberts), who has overthrown the government, taken command of the army and set up a corrupt regime financed by drug trafficking.

Monroe's bodyguards include the aptly named Paine (Steve Austin of World Wrestling Federation fame), and Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren, who battled Stallone in "Rocky IV"). Jensen is a turncoat, thrown out of the Expendables for violating the brotherhood's strict moral code by his substance abuse.

After blowing up half the capital and shooting everyone in sight, Barney and Lee barely escape with their lives. But Barney is smitten with resistance agent Sandra (Gisele Itie), and he vows to return to Vilena with the entire gang to find her and restore the nation's freedom.

Despite a slender script and minimal dialogue, "The Expendables" tries to be several films at once. It's a morality tale of good versus evil, with the promise of redemption for a group of warriors, each of whom has been around the block once too often. It's also a buddy movie, with Barney and Lee trading tips on dating women in between throwing grenades. Finally, it's a message picture on freedom and patriotism, with justice dealt out to hostage-takers and enemies of democracy.

Unfortunately, these themes get lost in the sheer chaotic spectacle of the film. "The Expendables" is an assault on the eyes and ears, akin to going 10 rounds with Rocky himself. Under Stallone's direction, everything gets supersized: People don't simply get shot; their heads and bodies explode. It's not enough to blow up one building; the entire town must go.

"The Expendables" is not without a few funny moments, and two uncredited actors nearly steal the show. Bruce Willis plays CIA head Church, who gives Barney his new assignment. And Barney's rival is Trench, played by the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The film contains relentless bloody and graphic violence—including shootings, knifings, explosions, decapitations, torture, and implied rape—and some rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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James of the Marche: Meet one of the fathers of the modern pawnshop! 
<p>James was born in the Marche of Ancona, in central Italy along the Adriatic Sea. After earning doctorates in canon and civil law at the University of Perugia, he joined the Friars Minor and began a very austere life. He fasted nine months of the year; he slept three hours a night. St. Bernardine of Siena told him to moderate his penances. </p><p>James studied theology with St. John of Capistrano. Ordained in 1420, James began a preaching career that took him all over Italy and through 13 Central and Eastern European countries. This extremely popular preacher converted many people (250,000 at one estimate) and helped spread devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. His sermons prompted numerous Catholics to reform their lives and many men joined the Franciscans under his influence. </p><p>With John of Capistrano, Albert of Sarteano and Bernardine of Siena, James is considered one of the "four pillars" of the Observant movement among the Franciscans. These friars became known especially for their preaching. </p><p>To combat extremely high interest rates, James established <i>montes pietatis</i> (literally, mountains of charity)--nonprofit credit organizations that lent money at very low rates on pawned objects. </p><p>Not everyone was happy with the work James did. Twice assassins lost their nerve when they came face to face with him. James died in 1476 and was canonized in 1726.</p> American Catholic Blog Let us never tire of seeking the Lord—of letting ourselves be sought by him—of tending over our relationship with him in silence and prayerful listening. Let us keep our gaze fixed on him, the center of time and history; let us make room for his presence within us.


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