22 June 2002 | Victor Field
"The Dirty Dozen" this isn't (in more ways than one).
Not as exciting as it could have been but thankfully also not as trashy, the expendables in "The Expendables" are a group of convicts serving either life sentences or awaiting execution who a soon-to-retire colonel (Brett Cullen) is ordered to whip into shape to carry out a dangerous mission: to rescue a Cuban-American Presidential advisor who's been captured on a mission and thrown in prison - and since she's being held in a women's prison, the convicts sent to rescue her (amnesty if they survive, killed in action otherwise) are women.
Made for cable TV ("This isn't cable TV," the colonel tells one of the convicts at one point), the tale does walk a tightrope between being an action movie and territory closer to Lifetime (they don't actually get to the prison until the movie's third act); most of the prisoners who get some kind of development turn out, of course, to have some kind of circumstances that redeem them in the eyes of the plot - though one, thankfully, doesn't (I won't reveal which one because it would blow the climax) - but on the upside the lack of Big Names in the cast mean it's not easy to guess who'll make it to the "Country of first publication: United States of America" info, and the tale's played thankfully straight with no winking to the audience...well, there is that "cable TV" joke...and a lack of gratuitous nudity. (In the case of Tempestt Bledsoe - doing more acting here than on "The Cosby Show" - this may be just as well.)
Anyone expecting non-stop blistering action may be disappointed, but you could do worse.