Short version- As a friend of mine so perfectly summed it up- "Dialog was clunky as hell at times and it looked like it was going to really suck half way through, but the last part of the movie made up for the lagging parts."
That is exactly how I felt about the movie. For maybe 30 minutes or so, it seemed like it was going to be the most atrocious, unwatchable pile of filth since GI Joe.
The beginning was OK, as we are dropped in on the Expendables in action. A very fun and frenetic scene, delivering not only on the promise that the previews made to us, but also on fleshing out the characters.
But once they returned home to their variously monotonous lives, I was afraid that the whole thing was falling apart. The dialogue was pretty fucking bad. I realize what this movie is supposed to be, an homage to action flicks starring the best of the best (or most of them anyway- would've loved to see JCVD in there). And as such, you can't in all good conscience hold it up to the same standards that you might a regular movie. But at times it seemed like they had forgotten the gag; that they were suddenly trying to take themselves seriously.
Randy Couture was kind of a waste. He is most definitely a horrible actor, reading his lines as thought he were trying to one-up (or one-down?) Michael Madsen's turn in Sin City. Just fucking awful. But even beyond that, he was pretty underused in the flick. The part about his ear, and his oversensitivity to its condition, was like an in-joke that nobody was in on. Again, I realize the irony of criticizing acting abilities in a movie of this scope. But in all honesty, the rest of the cast held their own. Say what you will about Stallone, at least he can act. True, it may not be "acting" so much as being himself, but Couture's time on camera was so wooden and forced it just felt painful to watch.
Statham especially is actually a pretty decent actor (though much of the material given to him here was clunky as hell). The guy knows how to play a toughguy-with-a-heart role. Even Lundgren had a pretty convincing performance as the washed up, unstable turncoat.
Mickey Rourke was criminally under-utilized in the movie. He's not necessarily a marquee action star, but he's tough enough to deserve some action scenes. He was barely around enough to deliver half-hearted monologues about love and honor. I suppose that could be attributed to the real-life deterioration of his mental faculties. How do I know, you may ask, that his mind is slipping? Well other than the evidence in any recent interview he's given, the man drooled during many of his meandering soliloquies. Drooled.
To me, Predator is the ultimate ensemble action movie. It is the bar that all films like this strive to reach. And though there is no shame in not reaching that peak, because few movies do, The Expendables actually surpassed Predator in one memorable category. Anyone here worth their testosterone knows that the baddest gun ever to grace the screen was Jesse Ventura's "Ol' Painless." And that gun's sheer ferocity has never come close to being matched. Until Terry Crews unleashed the fury of his as-yet-unnamed "girlfriend." Holy schnikes!!!
--The inclusion of Willis and Arnold was a nice touch. Brief, but just having them appear was a cool nod to 2 of the biggest in the genre.
--They could've trimmed some of the unnecessary and unimportant stuff, like Statham's girlfriend, or the tattoo shop (is it too over-critical of me to question why Stallone's unfinished tattoo needed literally 9 seconds of inkwork for Rourke to finish? Was the only reason for the inclusion of that scene to show off Stallone's tattoos?)
--The scene where Stallone was running after the airplane... let's just say that watching him run was a definite, concrete reminder that the man is over 60 years old. I can see why they edited it the way they did, to only show brief glimpses of him running. He ran as though he actually had shit in his pants.
--Seeing Big Nog and Little Nog as 2 of the henchmen was cool. Probably only going to be appreciated by hardcore MMA fans.
--Austin was a good villain. Fortunately they didn't give him much dialogue and let him play to his strength.
Maybe the only other thing that would've made this better would have been to not only have JCVD in it, but have him play Statham's romantic rival. No way his ego would've allowed that though.
Overall, I'd give it a solid B-, 2.5 out of 4 stars, a modest thumbs-up. Don't rush to catch it in the theater, but it's worth seeing.