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By Fred Adelman
THE EXPENDABLES (1988) - This Vietnam War action film opens with Captain Rosello (Anthony Finetti) leading a platoon into an enemy village and destroying a munitions dump, but not before taking on heavy casualties. When the mission is completed, the only people left alive are Rosello, another soldier and a baby that Rosello rescues after he is forced to kill it's traitorous mother. Back at base camp, Rosello is informed by his Commanding Officer that no other soldiers want to work with him because every mission he leads, very few soldiers come back alive. Rosello is then ordered to lead a squad of misfits, con men and criminals on his latest mission, but first he has to get them to work together as a team. That won't be easy. This group of roustabouts have more issues than National Geographic. There's the wise-mouthed black demolitions expert, Jackson (Kevin Duffis); deeply religious Bible-thumper with the prophetic name Elijah Lord (Loren Haynes, who also wrote and sings the film's closing tune); full-fledged bigot Richter (Jeff Griffith), who looks at Jackson and says, "Apes ain't my brothers!"; hard-partying pothead Sterling (Peter Nelson); and the mysterious Navarro (Eric Hahn). Before you can say THE DIRTY DOZEN, Captain Rosello is seen whipping the squad into shape in typical 80's fashion, while we watch the members try to work out their differences, especially between Richter and Jackson (When Richter says, "I smell a nigger!", it leads to a lengthy fistfight between the two). Rosello finally leads his men on their first mission: Capturing a Viet Cong Colonel (Filipino staple Vic Diaz, in a much larger role than usual) and blowing up an enemy bridge. They somehow manage to complete their objectives, but they aren't yet working together as a squad (Rosello tells his Commanding Officer after the mission, "They can't even wipe their own asses!", to which his C.O. responds, "Then you wipe for them!"). Slowly but surely, everyone begins working together as a team and learn to put their differences aside. After taking a major casualty on their second mission, Roselli decides to take his men for a night out on the town, which leads to a prerequisite bar fight with a bunch of drunken Marines (one is portrayed by an uncredited Nick Nicholson). They all get thrown into the brig, but when enemy forces invade the hospital to free their captured Colonel and take some female nurses hostage, Captain Roselli and the Expendables swing into action in what will turn out to be their most dangerous (and fatal) mission. For the first time, Captain Roselli experiences the hollow experience of victory in the face of sacrifice. This is Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago's third 80's Vietnam War film, after EYE OF THE EAGLE and BEHIND ENEMY LINES (both 1987), and while it offers nothing new to the genre (all the characters are straight out of Stereotypes 101), it still manages to be strangely compelling, not to mention action-packed. Santiago always staffs his films with his usual cast of professionals and THE EXPENDABLES benefits from it. As a matter of fact, the weakest actor here is Anthony Finetti as Captain Rosello, who is a newcomer to the Santiago universe. Nearly everyone else, from Rosello's Commanding Officer (William Steis; the star of DEMON OF PARADISE - 1987) to all the members of the Expendables, have appeared in numerous Santiago productions, sometimes taking-on leading and secondary roles and other times appearing in uncredited bit parts. That is why most of Santiago's films, whether good or bad, are at least well-acted. THE EXPENDABLES also contains it's fair share of gunfights, explosions and bloody bullet squibs as well as a surprising amount of female nudity (much of it full-frontal), way more than usual for films of this type. The script, by Philip Alderton, is generic war action stuff, but I did like the inclusion of the deeply religious character, Lord, into the mix. It allowed for a couple of unusual sequences, such as when Lord pulls his gun on and threatens to kill a naked gook prostitute when she rubs her naked body on him. He also turns out to be the voice of reason during the final attack set-piece, basically telling the rest of the gang, "Hell, do you want me leading you or do you want the reluctant pothead?" The group picks the pothead. As much as I despise organized religion in general, it's refreshing to watch a film that puts a human face to someone devoted to their god, without pandering or preaching. If you are a fan of war action films, you will probably enjoy this. This is the first film produced by Christopher R. Santiago, Cirio's son. Christoper would go on to produce many of his father's later films. Also starring David Light, Leah Navarro, Don Wilson, Jim Moss, Don Holtz, Greg Rocero, Janet Price and Cory Sperry as Strzalkowski, an in-joke to frequent Santiago collaborator Henry Strzalkowski, who had nothing to do with this film. Available on VHS from Media Home Entertainment and not yet available on DVD. Rated R.
[first published on Fred's site Critical Condition which although the name sounds like an underground punk site is indeed about films!! LOL]
VHS / Australia / FS? / English audio
VHS / USA / FS? / English audio
Laserdisc / USA / FS? / English audio
Thanks to Sutekh of Explosive Action for the laserdisc scan.