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Rolling around in nostalgia and big hairy machismo, Sylvester Stallone's Expendables movies have been making a mint for Millennium Films. So, the crafty production company that has brought us such outlandish fare as Olympus Has Fallen and The Paperboy began to plan a way to capitalize on this franchise beyond the Expendables sequels. How about a spin-off with ass-kicking women? Call it The ExpendaBelles, because why the hell not?
So far, I've enjoyed The Expendables movies for all their earnest nostalgia, over-the-top mayhem and bonkers bromancing. But I've been eager to see how this spin-off would develop with action heroines are on the rise and a wide history of killer leading ladies to pull from. That was until today, when the studio set all my hopes for a promising action picture on fire.
In case you missed it, Millennium Films has offered a one-two gut punch to those of us hoping for an action movie fitting of the action heroines we grew up with. For starters, The ExpendaBelles will be a bunch of undercover operatives who take on the guise of "high-class call-girls." But potentially more groan-inducing than this misogynistic plotline is their chosen director. Instead of an established action-helmer or a promising new talent, the studio chose Robert Luketic, the hack behind such detestable travesties as the Katherine Heigl "comedy" The Ugly Truth and the painfully dull thriller Paranoia.
But despite these bad signs, it's not too late to turn this bomb around, right? So, here's my four steps to making The ExpendaBelles a movie worth watching.
4. Cast An Ensemble On Par With The ExpendablesThere have been promising rumblings with rumors that Cameron Diaz, Milla Jovovich and Meryl Streep are in talks. Between The Fifth Element and a long string of Resident Evil movies, Jovovich is a no-brainer for this ensemble. However, Diaz is barely an action star, despite Charlie's Angels and Knight and Day. Of course neither is Streep. But she's Meryl Fucking Streep. If she wants to pick up an uzi and do some damage, she has more than earned that.
But The ExpendaBelles also needs some classic action heroines in their crew, like Terminator 2's Linda Hamilton, La Femme Nikita's Anne Parillaud, The Matrix's Carrie-Anne Moss, and Alien's Sigourney Weaver. Hell, bring Natalie Portman on board as a nod to The Professional! For more modern-day brawlers who don't lack on brawn, add Zoe Bell, Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey to the fray. Or look to TV and bring in Sarah Michelle Gellar, Lucy Lawless, Katie Sackhoff or Jennifer Garner. I could go on and on. How about Pacific Rim's Rinko Kikuchi? Blaxploitation icon Pam Grier? Or even Hit-Girl herself, Chloe Grace Moretz? There is a big wide world of hard-hitting onscreen heroines to choose from. Millennium just needs to open up and look around.
3. Killer Fight ChoreographyFor The Expendables, producers brought in fight choreographer Jonathan Eusebio, who has also worked on Haywire, The Avengers, and The Wolverine. Personally, I'd make him a must for the crew of The ExpendaBelles. Not only has he worked on films that offer extraordinary action sequences on big and small scales, but also he's accustomed to choreographing for female characters. And he doesn't make them milder for the so-called fairer sex. Take one look at Haywire, and you'll see he pulls no punches, creating fight scenes that are breathtaking and sometimes even painful to look at in the best way possible.
But if Eusebio is unavailable, we've got a stellar second pick in Oilvier Schneider, the fight choreographer from Fast & Furious 6. This is the guy credited with constructing the complicated and totally brutal battle between Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano that included handcuffs used as brass knuckles, and a bone-crunching tackle down a flight of subway stairs. It's dizzying to imagine how producers will top that sequence in Fast & Furious 7.
2. Revise The ScriptTo get most of the talent we talked about at point 4, Millennium needs to ditch the call girls ploy. Penned screenwriting team Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah, maybe this gross scheme is meant to be played with a tongue-in-cheek awareness and winking meta humor. But it's already causing outcry among female moviegoers who were looking forward to an action franchise that wouldn't view women first and foremost as sex objects.
There are literally an infinite amount of scenarios that could be set up that would not demand The ExpendaBelles' stars play up their tits and ass. Sure, there will be some who moan the loss of ogling material, but there are plenty of movies out there for that. Far less films offer an action heroine that doesn't also have to show some skin to get by studio brass. We're in an age where The Hunger Games: Catching Fire --a female fronted action-adventure that doesn't sex up its leading lady--beat Iron Man 3 out for 2013's highest domestic-grossing film. Haven't we moved past, "She's tough - but what do her tits look like?"
1. Drop The DirectorThere are few things in this world I hate more than The Ugly Truth. It is a profoundly stupid movie that trades so heavily in tired gender clichés that it's obscene and offensive. Did you know it actually contains a scene where its heroine accidentally learns how to masturbate because the remote control to her vibrating panties, which she mistakenly wore out to a business dinner, ends up in the hands of a little boy with an itchy trigger finger? It's insane and repulsive, and we should expect nothing more from The ExpendaBelles with Luketic at the helm. Mark my words: Robert Luketic is a weight that will only bring this production down.
Last fall Millennium chief Avi Lerner leaked that the company was possibly picking a female director for The ExpendaBelles. Considering how rare opportunities like this are for female filmmakers, I was personally elated. I dreamed of Punisher: War Zone's Lexi Alexander digging in with action once more. I wondered if Academy Award-winner Kathryn Bigelow would take a break from thought-provoking war dramas and return to the fun of her early actioners. I pondered if Millennium would be brave enough to give an up and comer like Pariah's Dee Rees a shot. But nope. They went with Luketic.
Don't get me wrong, I don't care that Luketic is male. Honestly, I'd rather have a great director tasked with taking on The ExpendaBelles, regardless of sex, than a female director chosen predominantly for good press. But Luketic is not by any stretch a great director. He is at best mediocre, and at worst a total hack who believes all women think of is love and looking pretty. So I don't believe the job went to the best candidate for a movie meant to be about the world's most ass-kicking collection of women. And as long as he's attached, I'll be dreading this release.
The ExpendaBelles is set to shoot this summer. In the meantime, I'll be wishing desperately that Millennium will be making some serious revisions to the production.