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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Expendables

By
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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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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