A week ago, Menahem Golan died, but his spirit is alive and well in "The Expendables 3." For those of you who don't read movie credits (or those who practice good taste), Golan was best known for producing and sometimes directing cheapo action fare like "The Delta Force" (Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin), "Masters of the Universe" (Dolph Lundgren), "Kickboxer" (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and "Over the Top" (Sylvester Stallone). Stallone's "Expendables" franchise is nothing if not nostalgia for the bad old days of heroes with heavy artillery, absurdly large knives and even more absurdly large torsos.
The second sequel -- with direction by Patrick Hughes ("Red Hill"), a story by Stallone, and a script credited to Stallone and Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt -- immediately delivers a double dose of cheesy '80s action energy and good stunt work as the remaining Expendables bust an old colleague of Stallone's Barney Ross out of a prison train, then go straight into mercenary action in Mogadishu. On the basis of these back-to-back sequences, with some macho-banter comedy wedged in between, one might mistakenly begin to expect great things from "The Expendables 3."
As the "genius medic" Stallone rescues after "eight damn years," Wesley Snipes turns on the charisma that made him a star (though the script stupidly sidelines him), and their backup of Jason Statham, Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews make for solid support on a scale from wide-eyed to wisecracking to deadpan (OK, the deadpan side is a little top-heavy). Of course, this is the sort of movie (basically unprecedented except for its two predecessors) where the sloe-eyed hero can stumble on a bad guy -- who's supposed to be dead -- played by Mel Gibson, then in the next scene bump into Arnold Schwarzenegger in a hospital corridor, then step outside the hospital and get orders from a C.I.A. head honcho played by Harrison Ford.
A sentence like that in some ways makes reviewing the movie pointless: Of course, "The Expendables 3" is going to be bad, and, of course, some of us will feel compelled to see it anyway. Certainly, there's not an ounce of pretension on the flick's otherwise flabby, two-hour-plus frame, and there's naught to do but throw up one's hands at the ridiculous patchwork plotting and tissue-thin character development.
The movie spends at least an eighth of its running time on a suite of recruitment scenes establishing a new crew played by Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, boxing champ Victor Ortiz and MMA star Ronda Rousey, then uses them strictly as action figures. Even with that run time, there are simply too many characters to hope for any kind of depth: Surprisingly, the most developed supporting characters are the genuinely amusing comic-relief players -- Antonio Banderas as the mouth-running newbie Galgo and Kelsey Grammer as Barney's old buddy who serves as guide to the new recruits.
"The Expendables 3" quickly reveals its poor plot construction and, less forgivably, its inability to meet or top its own action outset (the clumsily executed climax is just sort of a mess). Gibson helps with gonzo acting of bad material, it's nice to see Robert Davi again for a few minutes, and, hey, I blinked, was that Jet Li? It's a bit like watching old friends drunkenly mud wrestle: It's good to see them, but not like this.
Rated PG-13 for violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language. Two hours, six minutes.