Part of the appeal of the franchise (can we call it that now?) is that it harks back to how we first got to know a lot of these actors – ridiculous, one-man-army plots, explosions, guns, one-liners and frankly, lots of fun.
Since the sort of guff a lot of these guys churned out around the 80’s (Raw Deal, Over the Top, Cobra, The Punisher, Dark Angel, Code of Silence, Lone Wolf McQuade, Kickboxer, AWOL, Red Sonja, Black Eagle etc), they have mostly gone on to bigger and better(?) things. But there is a place for celebrating where these guys have come from, especially since they are playing on that background in gathering them together now.
Rather than try to look back at the critical high points of some of the Expendables (that would be a very different list), I want instead to celebrate some entertaining silliness from some of the Expendables alumni. You will not struggle to find better films than those considered below, but I defy you to find more mindlessly entertaining ones. And remember – it’s only a guilty pleasure if you allow others to make you feel guilty.
1. Jean-Claude Van Damme – Bloodsport
The Muscles from Brussels, Van Damme-age – off the back of villain roles in Black Eagle and No Retreat, No Surrender the former ballet dancer from Belgium had shown that even if he was a little lacking in acting chops, he had a fight-scene presence and a physical ability that drew the eye. His next project? A leading role as a good guy in a based-on-a-true-story about a guy who is very effective in kicking people in the head. With a narrative even more pared down than the comparable Enter the Dragon, Bloodsport gives us Frank Dux as the first westerner to ever compete in the Kumite, a full-contact, no holds barred martial arts contest.
Playing to its strengths and papering over its weaknesses, Bloodsport showcases exceptionally good martial arts sequences across a variety of disciplines and gives us some memorably bone-crunching fights. As the notional villain of the peace, Bolo Yeung’s Chong Li proves an excellent counterpoint to Van Damme, strong, brutal and technically accomplished and seemingly ageless having appeared looking not a day younger in Bruce Lee’s aforementioned classic over a decade earlier.
The side stories of Dux being pursued by army superiors and a western reporter keen to get the skinny on the mysterious tournament are padding, but at least don’t distract from the fight scenes. JCVD would go on to some measure of box office success, but this was him at his purest – exceptional fight sequences strung together with the slenderest of plots. Great fun and one worth tracking down.