Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Van Dammage: Padre Expendables

"What Mr. Stallone is trying to do...is feeding every character.  He has to feed them like a big family.  They have lots of names here so you have to feed them on an equal way.  It's like the padre of a family of a table of movie stars.  He's got to feed them equally and they're all gonna shine somewhere."
     Jean-Claude Van Damme on the epic cast of The Expendables 2

We're just about a month away from the release of The Expendables 3, the latest reunion of cinematic tough guys from a bygone era yet somehow still punching and kicking, the 80's and 90's.  While both The Expendables and it's sequel suffered from uneven tone, near self referential overkill and not utilizing the huge casts to their full potential, they still managed to entertain and give us action movie lovers a big screen blast from the past starring many of our favorite heroes.  In EX you had Mr. Sylvester Stallone teaming up with younger turks Jason Statham and Jet Li while recruiting 80's staples Dolph Lundgren and Eric Roberts in supporting roles.  While then hot again Mickey Rourke was brought in for 2 days on a break from Iron Man 2 as a favor to Sly who cast him in Get Carter when decent parts were few and far between for the once promising young actor.  Former WWF/E superstar Steve Austin and Direct to Video martial arts master Gary Daniels added some villainous muscle as Robert's henchmen.  Then former pro athletes turned actors Randy Couture and Terry Crews filled out the rest of the Expendables team.  Stallone's longtime friends and business partners Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis turned up for a quick cameo that was filmed over a few early hours on a Saturday morning while The Oak was serving as California's governor.  Being sold as a cast of action legends was a bit of a stretch as out of the 9 actors plastered on the poster, only 3 had substantial roles and could headline a theatrical film at the time.  Originally, writer, producer and director Stallone envisioned the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ben Kingsley, Forest Whitaker and Kurt Russell to be involved only to be turned down by an in the trenches of a still unreleased film Van Damme and a semi-retired Russell who wasn't interested in ensemble casts.  No word if Kingsley and Whitaker were ever approached or just used to hype the film to foreign distributors.

Up against the Comic-Con crowds Scott Pilgrim VS the World and the mature, Oprah book club Julia Roberts starring Eat Pray Love, the ragtag Expendables somehow defied the odds and opened up # 1 in August of 2010, earning near $35 million on it's way to a $103 million domestic take and nearly $275 million worldwide.  That would be good enough to put it above studio men-on-a-mission fare like The A-Team and The Losers, give Stallone his third franchise and everyone involved a shot in the arm.  Having suffered a multitude of injuries on the first film including a hairline fracture broken neck, Stallone relinquished directing duties to Con Air helmer Simon West to focus on the script and characters.  Rumors of a sequel quickly swirled and names like Donnie Yen, Jean-Claude Van Damme again, Michaels Biehn and Pare, Ryan Seacrest, Vin Diesel, Steven Seagal and Sandra Bullock were sought, denied and plain never approached.  Looking to break into China's burgeoning box office and production benefits, producers approached legendary screen fighter Yen who turned a role down that was eventually rewritten for actress Nan Yu.  JCVD, thought by many to be an idiot for turning down the first, was shown to be his usual under the radar intelligent self as he was now in a position to take a major role as the villain instead of one of the backseat Expendables.  Plus, he got the odd yet awesome ALSO credit versus With or And.  Stallone mentioned Biehn and Pare as actors who had been through the mill and deserved another shot to which Biehn quickly stated he didn't need Stallone to save his career.  Seagal's tense relationship with producer Avi Lerner is the rumored culprit to why the 90's star wouldn't sign on but audiences did get to see him mix it up with Danny Trejo in Robert Rodriguez's ridiculous grindhouse flick Machete.  Sandra Bullock was a pipe dream stemming back to 1993's Demolition Man which I'm sure never made it further than Sly mentioning it in an interview.  And what about Ryan Seacrest?  Apparently he works out with the same trainer as Stallone and has an impressive physique for a TV host so rumors of him playing a shady federal agent ran rampant but never materialized.

With Jean-Claude Van Damme as the villain Vilain, high kicking DTV star Scott Adkins as his 2nd in command, new recruit young guy from The Hunger Games Liam Hemsworth, Arnold and Willis in expanded roles and karate champion turned movie star turned TV icon turned internet sensation Chuck Norris locked in for a small role, 2012's The Expendables 2 looked to capitalize on the popularity of the first while expanding it's reach for 80's and 90's action stars.  The results are a jokier affair with Chuck Norris reciting a Chuck Norris joke and Van Damme turning in a solid if smaller than expected performance culminating in a physical, mano a mano throwdown with Stallone that left many fans disappointed.  The hype train was running at full speed with premieres around the globe, a panel at Comic-Con and the cast on every interview show imaginable but the film opened lower than part I with $29 million on it's way to an $85 million U.S. gross.  Worldwide tickets made up the difference and the flick brought in $300 million to best the original.  With a mid-August release, I think part of The Expendables' firepower was dampened by action films Total Recall and The Bourne Legacy hitting theaters in the weeks prior.

With over $500 million in worldwide receipts from theaters alone, a third Expendables adventure was sure and quick to happen.  2 years after the 2nd installment comes The Expendables III, touted as the possible "last ride" of the franchise but I'm sure that's more of a marketing thing to signal the end of summer because if this baby hits, there will be a 4th!  I figured Gerard Butler would be a solid addition to the cast as the Scot has action flicks and hits like 300, Gamer and Olympus Has Fallen to his credit along with a working relationship with Expendables production company Millennium Films but his name never came up.  Instead we heard rumblings of Jackie Chan, Nicolas Cage, Milla Jovovich and Wesley Snipes being on the shortlist of additions.  Jackie Chan bowed out as he didn't want to be in such a large cast and thought it should be a buddy picture with Stallone.  Nic Cage was never formally offered a role according to the man himself and for whatever reason, Jovovich didn't sign up either.  She was probably gearing up to shoot another Resident Evil movie.  Fresh out of prison Wesley Snipes boarded the Demolition Man reunion quickly though and Stallone teased fans that Mel Gibson was being considered to direct.  While the Mad Titan passed on directing reins, he did sign on to play main villain Conrad Stonebanks.  From there, UFC women's champ Ronda Rousey and Millennium's Hercules Kellan Lutz were brought in as young blood while Stallone pals Antonio Banderas and Kelsey Grammer showed up as additional members of the team.  Like part II, I fear III will suffer from 12 heroes and 2 villains syndrome but we shall see.  The biggest casting shock was that Stallone friend and part I&II co-star Bruce Willis would not be returning following a pay dispute.  Basically, Willis was offered $3 million bucks for 4 days work but wanted $4 million for 4 days.  Sly and the producers balked and within 72 hours had secured fellow 90's leading man Harrison Ford to join the party.  By my estimation the only 90's guys we're missing now are Seagal, Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner.  Of those three, I see Costner being the most realistic casting addition for a proposed part IV.

Originally touted as a throwback to old school action films, The Expendables I&II were both rated R for violence and language however CGI bullet hits and blood lack the visceral impact of squibs and real fake blood dripping from wounds a la the 80's.  Language wise I can't think of any totally obscene conversations that would warrant the rating or rival any of the pussy jokes from 1987's Predator.  Now, with the franchise on the line and a studio looking to keep it alive, The Expendables III has been rated PG-13.  Stallone claims it's to give all fans a chance to see the film but that comes off as a cop out to many fans since it was sold on the backs of the hundreds of shot, stabbed, blown up and mutilated bodies of the cast's filmographies.  Plus, the kids seeing Marvel or Fast & Furious movies probably aren't the same ones who would go see this.  However, things change and what is a PG-13 now is not what it was in the 80's.  After seeing arterial spray, inside out bodies, faces being eaten and the like on basic cable's Hannibal on a weekly basis, me thinks some not very bloody gunshot wounds, explosions and conversations not involving the f-word or sex won't affect The Expendables III so much that it won't be a fun time at the movies.  The PG-13 gambit paid off for Live Free Or Die Hard which grossed $383 million worldwide after 3 hard R entries.  The R-rated follow up A Good Day To Die Hard would gross $80 million less, losing most of it's ground in the U.S. where it wasn't overly loved by viewers so word of mouth might have had more to do with its performance than rating.

Now to prep for The Expendables I think I'll start with the Rambo films and move into Arnold's Commando and Predator then maybe a Lethal Weapon or four seguing into some Air Force One followed by Demolition Man with a trip to Van Damme's "very interesting" Expendables II...

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