Friday, 29 June 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Badass

Ahead of the Expendables 2, due this August, I had a little rewatch of what is surely the most important scene in the Expendables. Here it is:

I say this is the most important scene of the film, because the Expendables is essentially a vehicle for the a-z of badasses, and this scene has the three most influential badasses in movie history all in one. Schwarzenegger only appears in this scene, and Willis in little more, but clearly Stallone slyly wanted to get them all in one together.

What's great about the Expendables (this will be short) is the comprehensive involvement of about 80% of the prominent action movie badasses from the past 30 years. Those that were missed out of 1 are in 2, Van Damme and Norris, for example, which only leaves out Dwayne Johnson, Wesley Snipes, Vin Diesel and a possible cameo from Samuel L Jackson, not really an action movie badass from the same mould, but that would be cool, wouldn't it?

I digress. While this is the most important scene of the film, and it certainly succeeds in the sense that fanboys such as myself are literally shaking with excitement at the presence of the three stars in one scene, aside from this, every single other aspect of the scene is horrendous and it's should be the second worst segment of film ever made (if it wasn't for the badasses), second only to "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" in X Men The Last Stand (note I haven't expressed any desire to see quasi-badass Vinnie Jones in an Expendables film).

Pretty much everything it's possible to get wrong in a short segment of dialogue is wrong, to such an extent that it almost overwhelms (I say almost) the power of the holy trinity of badasses.

Let's start with the dialogue itself. Part of the reason this scene seems to be such a mess is because we were expecting it to be written in English. Instead it's written in action movie badass, a dialect consisting of growls, functional plot points and, most importantly, wisecracks. The plot points are efficiently explained to allow for maximum killing time, although Arnie's reason for his early exit, "I'm busy", could have used a little development. The problem here is that whoever wrote the scene obviously wasn't a native speaker of action movie badass leaving it sounding forced and just plain weird.  Arnie's presence really shows up people who think all these badasses are equally bad actors. Stallone, while he was never going to win an Oscar, can say words in a way that sounds something like how a person says words when they're not saying the words they've been told to say. Willis is amazing, as everyone knows. Arnie, on the other hand, sounds like an automated Stephen Hawking talking into a pillow. He sounds like he's trying to belch out his guts while reading words he doesn't really understand. He's like a child reading Spot the Dog for the first time, if that child's voice was lowered 5 octaves and played backwards. Here he shows the sheer adequacy of Stallone's performance.

Again, I digress. When Stallone makes a wisecrack about Arnie's weight, I can't help but think that 80s badass Arnie, or even 90s family comedy Arnie, would have had a wisecrack putdown. Instead, there's an awakward silence, not helped by Willis saying "You guys aren't gonna start sucking each other's dicks are ya?". Go to 0.11. Then again. And again. There's a full three seconds of awkwardness where the actors and audience are left with that image in their brain. Willis then awkwardly laughs for another three seconds like when you tell a joke and no-one laughs so you have to compensate by laughing a lot yourself. Except it isn't like when that happens, it's actually happening. In a film they usually get rid of misfiring jokes before the final cut. It't not often you get to see a genuine awkward moment in cinema, but here it is, Arnie, Sly and Willis awkwardly glancing around the room and chuckling to themselves to break the tension. It's like they bumped into each other in a lift. Which sounds like the start to a very good joke.

The next few seconds, when the badasses "get down to business" are just horribly edited. The whole point of this scene is seeing the three badasses on screen together, so why they choose quick cutting close ups between the badasses is beyond me. Now go to 0.24. What does Arnie say? "Itsalilaninagawf" Come again? Was he only able to do one take? Has he just swallowed an entire Kellogs Fruit Winder? (you remember them, right?) Perhaps it's just difficult adapting to the impenetrable dialects of Stallone and Schwarzenegger at the same time, like trying to speak French then German in close succession, but even as a seasoned Arnie interpretor I found that challenging. It's almost like the film makers didn't know they could shoot it again. Now go to 0.34. Same problem. The combination of close ups, fast cutting, incomprehensible dialogue and awkward silences make this feel less like a planned and executed scene in a movie than a Cassetteboy composite of clips that were too crummy to make it into any of the badasses other films. The wink and sigh at about 0.50 is particularly reminiscent of Ruth Badger's wink to Nick Hewer in Cassetteboy vs The Apprentic (forgive me if this reference is a little obscure). It gets even more Cassetteboy-like when the camera angle on Schwarzenegger changes after "he loves playing in the jungle //CUT// right?" It just looks odd and unprofessional. Ok, then it gets really good: "Hey, why don't we have dinner?" "When?" "In a tauuusand years". This really doesn't need much criticism, except I feel bad for Sly. He thinks he's getting asked for dinner, asks "when?" only to be mocked by the Governator. Harsh.

The final few seconds pretty much sum up the scene. "He wants to be president" and Arnie's knowing wink are basically saying "you want Arnie in this film. Here he is. Yay" It's all a massive in-joke.

But the scene's problems don't end here.

The music is terrible too. The setting is completely irrelevant, and it's oddly lit to make it look really aritificial. Mise-en-scene wise the worst thing is probably costume. Willis is cleverly disguised as Harry Hill and Arnie's suit appears to have been tailored to his 70s measurements. He's wearing trousers designed to protect trees from forest fires. You're not fooling anyone with your ill fitting suit. Get back to your old folks home or running the world's 8th largest economy or whatever it is you do with your retirement.

It's not just the actors. This scene is incompetently made. The sound, set, lighting, music (what exactly happens when Willis says "I want him dead!" at 0.44?), costume. It's disjointedly cut, unprofessional and is jarring from start to finish, and awkward, overwhelmingly awkward. I watched it by myself and felt slightly embarrassed. Never have I seen such a resoundingly awful bit of film making from start to finish as this scene. It is the worst made scene I have ever seen. And I still love it.

Bring on Expendables 2.

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