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Movie Review

For some folks, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra apparently felt too highfalutin. Perhaps the top executives at Lionsgate believed the film was just too complicated and deep. It had too much backstory, too many characters, too few eviscerations to fully connect with its target audience. "The screenplay was, like, pages long!" they said afterwards. "Did E.M. Forester write the thing?"

And so they greenlit Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables—an action movie that will never be mistaken for A Room With a View.

It's all about Barney Ross, a leathery, rough-hewn mercenary who leads a team of leathery, rough-hewn mercenaries. One day they're in Somalia, killing. The next, perhaps they're in Burma, killing. The next, they're being sent to the island of Vilena, to kill again. And it's here where they're supposed to take down the evil General Garza—a man also known for … killing.

Scoping things out, Ross and his lieutenant, Lee Christmas, discover that Garza's a mere puppet in the hands of a rogue CIA agent who totes around a guy aptly named Paine like a pet Allosaurus. They see that Sandra, Garza's beautiful-and-brave daughter, is working to liberate her island from the forces that oppress it. But after Ross and Christmas kill 41 Vilenese soldiers, they realize there are still a bunch more to kill—perhaps even more than their five-person killing team can manage. So they press their bulging biceps back into their shirt-sleeves and take off, without so much as a "sorry for the carnage" note.

Back home, Ross begins to have second thoughts, though. Sandra had refused to leave, and Ross wonders whether he should've done something to save her—and her tiny island, too. He begins to mull whether there's more to life than just bench presses and killing. Perhaps he could set aside some time for a rescue mission, too. Hmmm. That'd probably provide a few opportunities for a little more killing. Right?

Positive Elements

Ross does decide to return to Vilena to save Sandra and fight the island's corrupt powers. And I guess you could say that's a good thing—even if it means forcing the island through a rigorous, um, depopulation program.

He even learns a few things along the way. His mentor, Tool, reminisces about how he once purposely let a woman kill herself. "After taking all those lives, there was one I could've saved, but didn't," Tool says, tears in his eyes. Tool adds that, had he done the right thing, he might've "saved what was left" of his soul.

Ross wants to salvage the tattered remains of his own soul, so he tells the team he's heading back—alone. The Expendables, naturally, refuse to let him go without them. And so they tag along, risking their own lives for the sake of their buff buddy.

The bonds among these team members is touching, in a hyper-masculine, freakishly bloody way. Even Gunner, kicked off the team because he loved killing too much (!), earns a measure of redemption: After he tries to kill another teammate and Ross is forced to shoot him, Gunner kindly whispers the "layout" of the island to Ross. (Later, we see him hanging out with the crew again, a bandage on his chest. Apparently, the whole attempted murder thing has been forgiven and forgotten.)

Spiritual Content

When Ross meets a mysterious man at a church, the guy spontaneously decides to call himself "Mr. Church." (It would've been cooler had he called himself "Mr. Episcopal" or "Mr. Calvary Baptist.") When Sandra asks Ross and Christmas what their names are, Christmas calls himself "Buddha," then points to Ross and says "Pest." (The witty repartee never stops.)

Sexual Content

Sandra walks around in a dress and shift that's sometimes revealing. Tool dates a woman who wears a low-cut top and high-cut shorts. He slaps her on the rear as she walks away. Tool, who owns a tattoo parlor, has several black-and-white photos of tattooed people attached to his mirror—most of whom appear to be wearing nothing but their skin ink.

Among other sexaul remarks, masturbation and testicles are referenced. There's a vulgar joke about gay oral sex. One of the Expendables wears a shirt emblazoned with "Penthouse."

Violent Content

Ross and Co. estimate that Vilena is home to around 200 soldiers—none of whom survive to read the credits. All are killed right before our eyes. Some are dispatched with a relative whimper, falling to the ground in a spray of blood after getting shot once or twice. Others aren't so "lucky": They die after getting knives jammed in their necks or (in one case) ear. They die when their torsos are blown clean off their legs. They die when they're gassed up and torched.

Ross and Christmas make little bets about who might "get" a certain bad 'un, quibbling over what's faster, bullets or blades. (It's yet another indication that the Expendable guys didn't get much out of their formal education.) Before they even get to Vilena, they mow down a dozen or so Somali pirates (who were about to execute an innocent victim). Gunner wants to hang one of the Somalis for good measure.

Sandra is punched in the face, tied to a table and viciously waterboarded (twice). She is also nearly raped: Two soldiers knock her chair over (she's tied to it) and one moves to burn her with a cigarette butt. The assault is terminated when Ross barges in. He slices one man's hand off (we see the bleeding stump), cuts the other's head off (again we see the stump) and then jams the knife into the first man's throat, lengthwise, dragging it upwards so it looks like he's trying to cleave the guy's cranium from underneath. Another bad guy has his head practically snapped off in hand-to-hand combat, and still another is perforated by several bullets before we see the business end of a knife pierce his torso.

Cars careen and crash. Christmas kills a number of soldiers with his airplane machine guns, then sets a pier on fire, sending cars and men flying via ancillary explosions. ("That was a statement!" Christmas says.) He learns that his old girlfriend's new boyfriend beats her (we see an ugly bruise on her face), so he kicks the stuffing out of him and several of his friends. He finishes the fight by slamming a basketball into the man's chest, whipping out a knife and puncturing it. "Next time I'll deflate all your balls," he says.

Almost everyone gets into a massive fistfight with someone or other, and we see people get punched, kicked, slammed into stone walls, smashed into metal walkways and otherwise mutilated and mangled. People's legs, arms and kneecaps are broken. Three innocent people are executed.

Crude or Profane Language

Close to 10 f-words and about a dozen s-words. A smattering of lesser expletives includes "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "b‑‑tard." God's name is paired with "d‑‑n" three times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Cocaine appears to be Vilena's main cash crop, and we see bags of the stuff stacked in the presidential palace. Gunner's temporary expulsion from the group was partly a result of his drug abuse. Ross and others smoke cigars. Tool smokes a long pipe.

We see several characters drink beer and other alcoholic beverages. A pilot drinks and flies. Tool tells his girlfriend to fix him one of those "super-duper six-olive martinis."

Other Negative Elements


Testosterone, in the wrong hands, can be a weapon of mass destruction. Take The Expendables—a manly man's movie so bloated with he-man manliness that the movie itself should be tested for HGH and all its stars forced to read Jane Austen novels. Clearly this isn't the sort of manliness that dictates such things as protecting your family, taking responsibility for your life and perhaps watching some football on the tube as a reward for good behavior. This is full-on, biceps-splitting 'roid rage maleness, where masculinity is expressed through guttural howls, popping veins and high explosives.

The Expendables is more than a celebration of violence. It's practically a worship of it.

"If you're going to do violence and make it heroic, OK," Expendables writer/director/actor Sylvester Stallone told Fox News. "But if it is insidious like a serial killer? Not good."

With all due respect to Stallone—and I really must give it since just one of his biceps would fill up my entire office—I disagree. In fact, I'll even be so brave as to say that "heroic" violence may actually be worse.

Plugged In includes a "Violent Content" category in our reviews because we believe depictions of violence in media can be problematic. And we're not the only ones who think so. Sociologists say, after heavy research, that the more violent media a person sees, the more that person is prone to wreaking havoc himself—and most folks don't express those violent tendencies through saving a tropical island. Indeed, they show up in everyday places like schools, offices and living rooms in Peoria. One need only look at YouTube and watch a woman get violently upset over the unavailability of some Chicken McNuggets to get a sense that violence is far more often a problem in need of an answer than an answer itself.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Other Belief Systems

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range



Sylvester Stallone as Barney Ross; Jason Statham as Lee Christmas; Jet Li as Ying Yang; Dolph Lundgren as Gunner Jensen; Eric Roberts as James Munroe; Giselle Itié as Sandra; Randy Couture as Toll Road; Steve Austin as Paine; Mickey Rourke as Tool; Arnold Schwarzenegger as Trench; Bruce Willis as Mr. Church


Sylvester Stallone ( )





Record Label



In Theaters

August 13, 2010

On Video

November 23, 2010

Year Published



Paul Asay

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