I grew up watching the films of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, and Mel Gibson. All of them are action movie icons of the 1980s who created indelible characters and starred in movies that are well remembered today. Their movies have in turn influenced an entire new generation of filmmakers. It’s just too bad that the new generation, like “Expendables 3” director Patrick Hughes, doesn’t know how to make ‘em they like used to.
“Expendables 3” has one good idea, one fun character, and the rest is an overblown mess. The one good idea is to have Barney Ross (Stallone) ditch his old team from the first two films in order to hunt down ex-friend/Expendables co-founder/nemesis Conrad SnowbanksÂ (Mel Gibson, once again cashing in on the crazy persona like he did in “Machete 2”). To do this, he turns to Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) to help him find new recruits.
This brings us to the one fun character: Galgo, played by Antonio Banderas. He’s been trying to get on the team for years, with no luck. Now is his big chance and he is ready to go and eager to please. Galgo is a breath of fresh air into an otherwise stale story. He is energetic and funny, the perfect comic relief. This is crucial, especially since Ross’s new crew is the same as the old crew personality-wise, with the only real difference being that one of the new ones has a vagina (MMA fighter Ronda Rousey).
Then there’s the rest of the movie, which is one in a recent onslaught of movies--started by the mind-numbing “Transformers” series and continued with the overlong “Hobbit” movies plus with the recent “Hercules”--that re-define “overkill.” I thought the egregious opening scene where the team uses a chopper to attack a train going into a prison in order to rescue Ross’s old friend Doc (Wesley Snipes) was bad enough. Nothing could have prepared me for the intelligence-insulting ridiculousness of the bland, unimaginative, way overdone, and way, way, way too long and plodding final sequence where both Expendables crews take on an entire army. There is no real tension or suspense in any of it. It’s just wholesale slaughter and it is a chore to watch. Spare yourself the inanity of this pointless and drab sequel and Skip It.
Moving on to more crap, this week also brings us “November Man.” The name, we’re told, refers to Pierce Brosnan’s character Devereaux. They call him that because after he’s been through an area, there’s nothing left alive. I see how this is true, as Devereaux is a violent, alcoholic sociopath with no discernible moral code. Worse is that he had a student named Mason (Luke Bracey), whom he trained in the CIA. He taught Mason his personal rule, which is to have no relationships that enemies can use against you. Apparently, he also taught Mason that the best thing to do in any given situation is kill everyone in your way, no matter who they are. Did I mention that these two are the protagonists of the story? Yes, we’re supposed to root for these cold-blooded, ruthless psychos.
After a disastrous incident in the opening moments of “November Man,” the film flashes forward to five years later. Devereaux is called out of retirement by CIA chief Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) to procure a Russian asset named Natalia (Mediha Musliovic) and bring her back to the U.S. for debriefing so they can get leverage on the newly elected Russian president Federov (Lazar Ristovski), who may have had a hand in starting a bloody Chechen war years earlier. Natalia is shot during the escape by Mason, and the rest of the movie is a cat and mouse game as the former teacher and student become adversaries.
I don’t think even the writers had a good grasp of what was going on with this movie. They were trying to concoct something twisty and clever and just wound up with an unmitigated mess. The plot jumps from one event to another with little to no explanation. The arc of the Hanley character is especially perplexing. At one point a major authority figure is replaced with only a line of dialogue about how he was “confused” to explain it away. Devereaux is a drunk for the sake of being a drunk—no real back story is given. Lethal force also seems to be the only way he can get anything done. He needs to go to an embassy and sneak past some guards. Does he think of a clever, stealth way to infiltrate? Nope. He just goes in, guns blazing, and kills everybody like some kind of one man army. At one point Mason makes the mistake of getting too close to a neighbor named Sarah (Eliza Taylor). In one of the bigger head scratchers in “November Man,” Devereaux breaks into Mason’s apartment to kill him while he and Sarah are sleeping. But instead, he takes all of Mason’s guns out of his bedroom and holds Sarah hostage. Then in order to get away, he slices her leg at the femoral artery, forcing Mason to apply pressure to the wound and call an ambulance rather than chase after him. Question: Why didn’t Devereaux just use that knife to kill Mason while he was in the bedroom, rather than hide his guns and run away, endangering the life of an innocent woman in the process? It’s sloppy, poorly thought out writing like this that brings a movie down because it makes no sense.
Not that Mason is any better. He has a team of fellow CIA agents who help him. At one inevitable point he decides to stop following orders and do what he thinks is right. Does he non-fatally incapacitate his fellow agents in order to get away, or maybe sneak off when they’re not looking? No, that would be sane and normal. He does what Devereaux would do—he kills everybody. Now put yourself in the “reality” of this movie for just a sec. These fellow CIA agents are men he knows. He trained with them, worked with them, and even though we don’t see it, got to know them. They were trusted comrades in arms, who he relied on to get his job done, and they trusted and relied on him in return. So he coldly and unflinchingly betrays that trust and kills them all because he has a crisis of conscience? What kind of psychopath does that? And since the story centers around him and Devereaux, we’re supposed to empathize with these nut jobs? Hell no—and if you know anyone who can empathize with either of these two characters, stay away from them because if they are anything like Mason or Devereaux, they will kill you without compunction. On that note, here is something I say without compunction about “November Man”: Skip It.
At least there is one good movie coming out on Blu-Ray this week. That movie is “The Giver,” a brainier cousin to the other dystopian future movies based on YA novels like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” The film is about Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), an eighteen year old who lives in a society stripped of color (literally—the first half hour is in black and white) and drugs are taken to suppress strong emotions. Everyone is peaceful and docile.
Then at his graduation ceremony, where everyone is assigned the role they will play in society, he is specially chosen to be the Receiver. This is the one person per generation who is chosen to learn the truth of the real world—both its pleasures like love and exuberance, and its pains like war and death. He receives these from the previous Receiver (Jeff Bridges) who, in imparting this knowledge becomes the Giver and ensures that his legacy will live on and the truth will always be known.
While “The Giver” may be headier than its more action-packed relatives in the fictional totalitarian state YA sub-genre, it is no less entertaining. Jonas goes an amazing journey of discovery both about himself and about the world. “The Giver” is also more thought provoking than the others, focusing more on the logistics of the society in how it is all put together and operates. It does what any good sci-fi story does and asks us to reflect on ourselves and our own society, and see how easy it is for any civilization to think it’s right to subdue people in an attempt to create a utopia. It also shows us how in doing so by stripping away the very things that makes people who they are, it creates lives devoid of joy or meaning, which is one of the worst crimes against humanity of all. Rent It.
Also out the week: “A Madea Christmas,” the title says it all; “What If,” romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan; “Nymphomaniac: Volumes I and II,” Lars Von Trier’s director’s cut; “The Long Goodbye,” director Robert Altman’s version of the Raymond Chandler story, with Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe, P.I.; and “A Merry Friggin Christmas,” starring Joel McHale and Robin Williams in a story of a father and son who must make an eight hour road trip to retrieve some forgotten Christmas gifts.