"The Expendables 3" (PG-13) **1/2 (out of four)
In their solo efforts in recent years, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have largely hit the wall trying to resuscitate their once-glorious action movie careers. But there's no question when the two gather up their old action movie buddies for an "Expendables" chapter, the sum total of these fixtures from the 1980s and '90s usually adds up to some solid entertainment – and the latest installment in the franchise in no different.
"The Expendables 3" got some seriously publicity early in production because of co-star Bruce Willis' reported outrageous salary demands, which, of course, resulted in his unceremonious exit. In his stead is a much more likeable Harrison Ford as a new character, along with new cast mates Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammer and Mel Gibson – who all individually provide performances far more as entertaining than anything the "Die Hard" veteran could have mustered.
The plot of "The Expendables 3" is pure '80s action movie formula, as a group of uniquely skilled mercenaries are tasked to get ruthless arms dealer Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), who just happens to be the co-founder of the original Expendables with Barney Ross (Stallone). This time around though, Ross tries to shutter his aging, veteran buddies after a failed mission in favor of younger group with the same talents who are hip to the technological advancements of the day.
While the action in "The Expendables 3" is run-of-the-mill, the film easily scores big points for not taking itself too seriously. The movie boasts a great sense of humor, from Snipes, whose character muses about a stint in prison that mirrors the actor's personal troubles; to Schwarzenegger, a Z-grade actor who appears to be – I'm still not quite sure – mimicking his broken English dialogue with his still-thick German accent, shouting lines like, "Look out for da choppah!" It's laugh-out-loud funny stuff.
Ford appears to be having a great time as a retired military chopper pilot-turned-government fixer who hires the Expendables to execute their latest mission, and Banderas is hilarious as a mercenary for hire who can't get a job to save his life because of his manic, chatty personality.
Grammer also fits the bill with swagger and gusto as an old friend of Ross who helps the lead Expendable form his younger and hipper team. Meanwhile, the polarizing Gibson still continues to create conflict for moviegoers, as his powerful screen presence, even in a cookie-cutter bad guy role, is so strong that it almost makes you forget his personal behavior off-screen.
The interesting thing about "The Expendables 3" is that, while the film packed to the gills with actors, director Patrick Hughes still manages to strike an even balance of his talent old and new. While "Expendables" veterans Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Jet Li and Randy Couture mostly take the back seat to the youth movement –which includes Kellan Lutz ("The Twilight Saga"), boxer Victor Ortiz and female MMA star Ronda Rousey – they still have enough presence to make them relevant to the proceedings.
Apart from the very capable and always likeable Stallone in the lead role, Statham is really the only veteran apart from Schwarzenegger who has a role equal in weight to the new cast members. All told, none of the Expendables are, well, expendable yet, as another adventure (hopefully they'll retain Ford, Grammer, Banderas and Snipes) is surely on the way.
"The Giver" (PG-13) **(out of four)
Another dystopian thriller adapted from a best-selling novel, the biggest thing "The Giver" has going against it is timing. Published by author Lois Lowry in 1993, "The Giver" is unique in that it preceded similar dystopian fare like the "The Hunger Games" series and "Divergent" series on the page, but comes at a time where both have taken foothold as major film franchises.
As a result, "The Giver" – at an unusually short 94 minutes for a book adaptation – feels like a weak, thin knock-off, in comparison.
"The Giver" is set in the future in a seemingly utopian society where an idealism called "Sameness" has eradicated the pain and strife of peoples' lives through a series of daily injections – but also rid them of their capability to experience emotions.
The society, however, begins to unravel when teenager Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), inherits the position of Receiver of Memories from The Giver (Jeff Bridges), a person who stores humankind's past memories before the Sameness came about. Even though Jonas is under the close watch of the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), he begins to defy the society's norms as he discovers their existence is more dystopian than one of bliss – a discovery that ultimately puts his life in danger.
Also produced by Bridges, "The Giver" starts out with tremendous promise as a black-and-white film, accurately representing an emotionless society that makes you feel like you've stepped into an episode of the "The Twilight Zone" or "The Outer Limits." Coupled with a strong cast – which also includes Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgard, Odeya Rush and a barely recognizable Taylor Swift in small, but pivotal role – there's no doubt "The Giver" has the wherewithal to be an effective film, but just doesn't give enough.
The problem with "The Giver" comes when the film's emotion begins to surface and, effectively, gets its color. It's then Jonas identifies someone with the same traits as his own in the form of a crying infant, whose secret he tries to protect from The Elders. The scenarios he puts this kid through as a result is where the movie completely spins out of control, almost to the point where it's so bad it's laughable. Maybe the book's faithful fans will make more sense out of it, but for the rest of us, "The Giver" just seems like a squandered opportunity.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. He annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for BringMeTheNews, “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.