Flicks: ‘Expendables’ is last hurrah for action stars

John Meo

This is the fourth and final version of this week's Flicks column.

The first gushed about how great “The Expendables” will be.

The second, after the delete button was suitably tortured, lamented how late “The Expendables” is, that it should have been made 20 years ago.

The third griped about who’s missing from “The Expendables” — Wesley Snipes, Carl Weathers, Steven Seagal, Julian Sands, Jeff Speakman, Antonio Banderas, Danny Trejo, Chow-Yun Fat — and who’s inexplicably been added — Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Eric Roberts.

And now, we settle for something comfortably hovering near bemusement, acceptance and resignation.

This movie is impossible in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The primary players, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, were vital action stars back then, with franchises and fresh (if sub-standard) box office offerings. Maybe schedules prevented them from working together. Maybe it was budgets or egos or lack of a script they all supported. Whatever the case, as leading men who take billing above the names of their movies, these guys simply couldn’t have shared the same credit roll.

Fast forward to 2010.

Schwarzenegger last appeared in Jackie Chan’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” in 2004. In 2003, he popped up as an uncredited bar patron in The Rock’s “The Rundown” (probably his best performance in a decade) and he starred in the disastrous “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”

Stallone has been Dr. Frankenstein to the reanimated monsters of John Rambo and Rocky Balboa (although the latter was a nice send off to the series — one hopes).

Bruce Willis

Willis has probably fared the best of the three as he’s gotten on in years, primarily because he’s banked on being the everyman.

Arnie and Stallone were mostly shiny muscles, guns and bigger guns, while Willis was gritty, determined and just a little crazier than the bad guys. As such, Willis could age, but not much would change for his onscreen personae, most notably John McClane (although “Live Free or Die Hard” was a complete betrayal of the franchise).

I briefly considered this a baton passing (i.e., “The Rundown”) but who’s taking the handoff? No one in the cast makes sense.

No, “The Expendables” is a wink and a nod to action fans. It’s part farewell tour, part joke. And one assumes — hopes — we’re all in on it. The actors know their best days are behind them, the fans know this is the last hurrah, a one-way mission for the guys who always save the day, always get the girl and always live to tell the tale.

Until “The Expendables 2: Raid on Boca Raton.”

John Meo writes for the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin.