Movie fans know all too well that you have to wade through a lot of disappointment to find the good stuff. And it’s not always some binary pile-sorting of "good movies" and "bad movies"; sometimes there’s quality material smack in the middle of the muck. Say Something Nice is dedicated to those gems - memorable, standout, even great moments from movies that...well, aren’t.
Even as an avowed Stallone fan, particularly when he writes and/or directs, The Expendables has always been a thorn in my side. Made right after the generous goodwill received for the one-two punch of Rocky Balboa and Rambo, The Expendables felt like a dream idea come true: an R-rated action extravaganza starring a laundry list of aged muscle heads (and Jason Statham), guided by a guy who had just showed stunning displays of both character understanding and hardcore violence.
Instead, The Expendables was a bland, B-movie filled with half-written characters and CG blood squibs. Everything Stallone got right with Balboa and Rambo disappeared, replaced by a vanity wink harkening back to the worst tenets of ‘80s and ‘90s action fare (a lot of those movies are awful, fam). For this Stallone fan, it was a massive disappointment.
But there was one bit that deserves recognition. It struck me as special the first time I saw it and the 1,000 times I’ve seen it since. In a film that feels like one giant flatline, there was this one brief heartbeat:
I won’t start quoting my favorite bits because, honestly, I’ll just end up quoting the whole thing. Suffice to say, there is a poetry at play in the words here. Not so much the substance, but the accent notes, the asides. I’ve never been able to verify how much of this was improvised, but the scene’s not in the script drafts I’ve looked at, and it certainly has that flavor.
A huge part of that is just Rourke, though. Stallone forces these knuckleheads into a greasy, Bud Light biker culture, but with many of them it looks like old dudes playing dress up. Not Mickey Rourke. He makes this culture a part of his soul and personifies it to the extent that every detail, every move he makes, becomes fascinating. The groans as he leans forward, the way he draws from his weird Hobbit pipe, it all seems almost too perfect to even be acting.
What moved Mickey Rourke to give so much to this scene? You can balk at my calling it poetry, but I really do think this is some of the most unlikely great acting I can think of. Given the context of this particular film, Rourke goes far above and beyond what would ever be expected of him, delivering a strange monologue about the blackness of his soul while choking back an increasing wave of emotion. This movie doesn’t deserve it, but it at least has sense enough to shut up for a second and harvest this one good thing.
And the film gets back to being shitty almost immediately. Having just witnessed his old war buddy spill his guts in a weirdly masculine display of massive vulnerability, Stallone’s Barney just silently slinks into the darkness, as if no one could think of anything worth having him say, so they just gave up. Actually, if you watch cutaways to Stallone through the speech, it almost looks like he’s sorry he got the guy talking in the first place. What an asshole.
But for a couple glorious minutes, The Expendables becomes something even better than a good movie: it takes us on a bizarre, idiosyncratic journey into the mind of a man who will paint a beautiful guitar only to smash it into a million pieces while listening to Bob Seger in a tattoo parlor filled with naked pinups. It’s a beautiful thing.