One wonders if it was something more than a coincidence that Sylvester Stallone’s heaping pile of testosterone, “The Expendables,” opened the same week as “Eat Pray Love,” the much anticipated film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s wildly popular, and decidedly female-friendly, memoir.  The timing seems peculiar — a sort of cinematic equivalent to a “How ‘bout them Bears?” conversation between two guys dragged by their wives to a book club meeting.  

For “The Expendables,” Mr. Stallone, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay, has assembled an all-star cast of past and present action stars, professional wrestlers, MMA fighters and Eric Roberts, the laughably bad actor who also happens to be the brother of Julia Roberts, star of the aforementioned chick flick. (Still a coincidence? Most likely, but grander conspiracies have been posited on less evidence).

Speaking of conspiracies, the movie’s plot could sure use one – or a twist, or anything resembling a logical progression. Plot, of course, is not why anyone in their right mind would ever go see “The Expendables.” No, the motivation comes from the expectation of seeing the likes of Mr. Stallone, Mr. Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Randy Couture and Steve Austin kick some serious butt. To that end, Sly lets the bullets fly, the limbs snap and the C4 explode with little thought required.

Heavy on the mascara, Mr. Stallone steps in front of the camera to play Barney Ross, the leader of a band of mercenaries. In an amusing, if somewhat forced, scene featuring cameos of Bruce Willis and The Governator, Barney is hired to assassinate the dictator of a small South American island. When he and his sensitive, knife-throwing pal, Lee Christmas (Mr. Statham), go to scope out the scene, their gorgeous rebel guide (Giselle Itie) refuses to make a grand escape with them. She wants to stay and take a stand against the oppression, something the mercenaries cannot understand because they are dead inside. Dead, that is, until Mickey Rourke delivers a tear-jerking – and unintentionally hilarious – monologue. Director Stallone pushes the camera so close to Mr. Rourke’s plastic mug that we can feel his pain, as well as count his whiskers. It is then that Barney realizes he must go on the suicidal mission to rescue the girl, for it is the only way to save his soul.

After much carnage, Barney finally unties the damsel, who asks, “How are you here?”

“I just am,” he replies. Indeed, it matters not.

When “The Expendables” heightens to the bombastic finale, the movie feels like an attempt to wrap a story around a fireworks show – one need not have an explanation as to why the faces of the cannon-fodder are painted black and yellow, any more than we need to know on the Fourth of July why the rocket of green squiggles came after the explosion of purple and red. It just looks cool.

1 hr 43 min. Rated R for language
and extreme violence.