Review: Soldiers of Fortune (2012)
With The Expendables 2 set to hit screens in just two weeks now, its predecessor having raked in over quarter of a billion dollars internationally, it’s not hard to see how Soldiers of Fortune earned its green light, its template so unashamedly lifted from the original Expendables that co-writer Alexandre Coscas’ role as a production associate under Stallone hardly comes as a surprise. Where Sly’s film had the appeal of seeing some of the greatest ‘80s action heroes share a single plot, however, Soldiers of Fortune manages only to coop together a far less distinguished selection of familiar faces with its comparably meagre eight million dollar budget, few of them known for their action heroism.
To say that Soldiers of Fortune is loosely based on The Expendables is as to label ice loosely based on water; the two might be structurally distinct, but boiled down to their core elements there’s not a difference between them.
To say that Soldiers of Fortune is loosely based on The Expendables is as to label ice loosely based on water; the two might be structurally distinct, but boiled down to their core elements there’s not a difference between them. Rather than being a team of experienced mercenaries, however, the titular crew here are a band of thrill-seeking millionaires out to—you guessed it—relieve a tiny island nation of its tyrannical despot. Not content enough yet with the glaring plot similarities, Soldiers of Fortune adds to the mix a renegade CIA agent employed as the island’s head of security, and the beautiful daughter who represents the dictator’s one true weakness.
Beneficial to the budget though it might be, tasking a first-time director with helming an ensemble action piece is a fatal misstep on the part of the producers, Maxim Korostyshevsky’s lack of experience abundantly clear in a dire first sequence, wherein the greatest physical threat he can manage to offer his lead is the slight chance of falling from a mild hill. Worse still is his handling of the expository dialogue that follows, the bulk of the narrative information delivered by way of a mysterious woman played—her surname considered—by the benefactor of some undeserved directorial nepotism. Such is the relief when the real actors finally show up that one could easily be fooled into momentarily thinking this a decent film, James Cromwell and Sean Bean easily enough to make things briefly appear as though they might be looking up. How such a high calibre cast—Christian Slater, Freddie Rodriguez, Ving Rhames, Dominic Monaghan, and Colm Meaney also take central roles—could be drawn to so low-reaching a project is almost as pressing a question as why the film continues to drag and drudge even with their aid.
In a summer where just about every big release has had its plot eviscerated for aspects that don’t make sense, the biggest mystery of all is why a cast this fine agreed to a film this flabby.
Largely to blame is the lacklustre script: not hampered enough by blatant plagiarism of an already underwhelming story, it opts to cram in facile observations of current economic conditions and pitiful efforts to draw some dramatic density. The dialogue is at least pleasantly free of the sort of infantile one-liners that made The Expendables such a chore, save a last minute clunker from Slater that has no place even in a film this generic. To the screenwriters’ credit, they do manage to muster enough wit to earn a half-cocked smile from time to time, affording Cromwell the occasional good line which he delivers with the utmost avuncular grace. Rhames, despite being given an underwritten caricature of a role, brings a touch of joviality to proceedings, his penchant for destruction well facilitated in the heavy R rating the film carries. It’s the unbridled bloodiness that saves the movie from being completely awful in many ways, headshots aplenty and tank shells to the chest adequately masking the uninspired action staging.
Only in the calibre of its cast and its sanguine shootouts does Soldiers of War manage—albeit barely—to avoid the sheer dreadfulness its terrible writing and incompetent direction seem to destine it for. In a summer where just about every big release has had its plot eviscerated for aspects that don’t make sense, the biggest mystery of all is why a cast this fine agreed to a film this flabby. Perhaps they, like their characters, saw a chance to shoot some guns on a remote island and thought it might be fun. Borrowing from a bad film and managing to be even worse in the process, Soldiers of Fortune might not be a total disaster, but any film which manages to make The Expendables look better by comparison can’t be doing much right.