Did you hear about the burglars who broke into Dolph Lundgren’s house? They’re just getting down to robbing the place when they see an enormous portrait of Dolph Lundgren on the wall and suddenly they’re like, Shit, this is Dolph Lundgren’s house. And hightail it out of there without taking a thing. He’s amazing in this, playing the heroin-addicted turncoat as slurring Frankenstein’s monster re-animated by old pal/director Sylvester Stallone along with Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, and a handful of pro wrestlers whose name recognition varies widely in a viewer like me. “We used to be on the same team together.” “You guys aren’t gonna start sucking each other’s dicks, are you?” So much for subtext. The other Planet Hollywood CEOs do a quick cameo, Bruce Willis as a CIA spook and Schwarzenegger as a rival leader. The Terminator, of Rambo: “He likes playing in the jungle.” Rocky, of the governor: “He wants to be president.” We once thought there’d be an endless supply of these guys, but it turns out it was just the one moment: Vietnam hangover, high camp culture, peak oil. “We’re both dead inside,” says villain Eric Roberts to Sly, right before the world explodes—or at least most of a pseudonymous banana republic, and then the credits roll over what else, “The Boys Are Back in Town.”
There’s a plastic surgery that bloats the face of nations, too. What made us think the war was on screen? Laser sights on the foreheads of Somali pirates speak to precision’s cynicism, while the waterboarding (third movie in a few weeks) of the generalissimo’s rebellious daughter exposes our hysterical dread. Only the Transporter, as a knife-throwing expert, plays alive, in the subplot where he whips a yuppie and his friends for having socked the woman they’ve both courted in the eye. “The Expendables”—but as in those old A-team episodes, no one dies. They’re zombies, the undead shells of a virtue that didn’t add up. What would happen if Rocky went down, if the Terminator called it a day? They’re all big but Stone Cold Steve Austin, it’s like the guy swallowed a whole ‘nother guy. The monster, having been called forth, must be hounded to the very Pole. And that’s the bottom line.