'The Expendables 3' action stars all at different places in career
‘The Expendables 3’ action stars all at different places in career

“The Expendables” movies are really only about two things: explosions and nostalgia. There’s no pretense here, just action-movie cliches played to the hilt and the fond cinematic memories prompted by any of the gaggle of past-his-prime actors who pop up onscreen.

Since “The Expendables 3” delivers on all of its low-brow promises of a high body count and frequent one-liners, the only thing really left to parse out is what appearing in this movie means for its constellation of aging stars.

First, you’ve got guys like Dolph Lundgren and Randy Coture, whose only chance of being in any movie is an “Expendables” movie. They’re just happy franchise-founder Sylvester Stallone had their numbers in his Rolodex.

Jet Li and Arnold Schwarzenegger drop in for what is essentially glorified cameos meaning they got paid to show up on set for a couple of days, shoot some guns and leave. That’s nothing but a really good weekend; no harm, no foul.

Terry Crews is unquestionably the guy in the cast who is currently getting the most work, as he is cropping up in movies and on TV everywhere you look. He’s just keeping the ball rolling and gigging here.

Of all the returning actors, Jason Statham is in the most interesting place career-wise, as he rolled right into “The Expendables” after headlining equally-crap-tacular action fare like the “Transporter” and “Crank” movies. Are these movies just part of his career arc or a well-timed life raft? Only time will tell.

Among the new faces, the most out of place is Harrison Ford. He definitely doesn’t need the money and all he really does here is deliver some dialogue and fly a helicopter. Part of me thinks Stallone ran into him wandering around Home Depot, asked him if he had a couple of hours to spare and Ford said “What the hell. Why not?”

You could also argue Kelsey Grammer is a little out of his element, but he is well-cast as a mercenary talent-scout who helps Stallone assemble a new team. Grammer gets some good laughs and has good chemistry with Stallone. If there was a TV show coming out that starred the two of them as private eyes working together in New Orleans, I’d watch the hell out of that.

Antonio Banderas is another fun addition, gleefully stealing scenes as an enthusiastic chatterbox. He doesn’t really need these movies either, but I’m starting to suspect he might be the Spanish Nicolas Cage, in that if you ask him to be in your movie, he will be … in … your … movie!

Next, we have the Hollywood exiles, the first being Wesley Snipes, who was relegated to direct-to-video status after doing time for tax evasion. You can see he’s still got it, as the dude oozes charm even while playing an unhinged former medic. I doubt this movie will launch a full-fledged comeback, but he should start showing up in some places other than your Netflix suggestions.

Last, we have Mel Gibson who plays the bad guy. Showing up in spots like this is the best he can really hope for, but he has a few moments in this movie where he shows he still has legitimate, headliner chops. Seeing him here only proves Mad Mel would still be a bankable star if he weren’t an insane bigot. Liam Neeson is currently starring in all of the movies Gibson should have been in; Neeson should send him a fruit basket or something.

I have to give Stallone credit for shrewdly realizing if he were going to be able to wring every last drop out of his career there was strength in numbers. He gives the people what they want and doesn’t strive for anything more. That’s about as admirable as brainless action movies get and I’m going to take it.

“The Expendables 3” is rated PG-13 for violence, including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and language.

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