Jason Statham gives the best performance. Dolph Lundgren gets the best character arc. Terry Crews gets the best gun. Jet Li gets the best kill (you’ll know it when you see it). Arnold Schwarzenegger gets the best cameo.

And Sylvester Stallone? He gets the blame. During a bad career stretch in the late 1990s when he starred in one stinker after another (“The Specialist,” “Judge Dredd,” “Assassins,” “Daylight”), Stallone used to complain that critics unfairly held him accountable for the failure of his movies, even though he was just a hired actor doing what he was told.

But the auteur has no excuse with “The Expendables,” which includes the irritating opening credit “A Film by Sylvester Stallone.” The actor directed and wrote (with David Callaham) this ensemble shoot-’em-up about a gang of likable mercenaries hired for jobs even the CIA won’t touch. The movie had been billed as a throwback to the action flicks of the 1980s – the decade the genre exploded along with the advent of home video – but that pitch turns out to be false advertising.

“The Expendables” is simply a crummy, nonsensical picture made by a faded movie star trying to regain some box-office luster, with a bored Mickey Rourke popping in now and then to deliver a dramatic monologue and a moment in which Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis appear together for the first time – for all of two minutes.

That scene, which the trailer already spoiled, is the high point of “The Expendables” – a tantalizing, too-brief glimpse at how much fun the movie could have been. Instead, we get a nonsensical plot about a drug kingpin (Eric Roberts, sneering like Dr. Evil) who is the muscle behind a military uprising in a Latin American country where everyone speaks in broken English (“Everything bad that has happened, you bring!”) and no one can hit a moving target.

The heroes waltz in and out of the bad guys’ lair with relative ease, considering they’re squaring off against an entire “army” (I don’t need a movie like “The Expendables” to be plausible, but there is a limit). At least Stallone loves his gore and explosions, so you get to bask in the glory of bodies blown in half, knives jabbed into faces and some enormous fireballs. There are two extended set pieces – one featuring Stallone and Statham raining hell from their plane, the other a tunnel battle in which everyone gets to kick butt – that are passable, at least by Golan-Globus standards.

But you also get cheesy CGI buildings collapsing, an obviously animated wall of fire, some muddled plotting (“Here’s what I think is happening,” Stallone says at mid-film before explaining everything that’s transpired) and truly execrable characterizations. Statham has a cheating girlfriend. Li wants a higher salary. Lundgren is a loose cannon, and Rourke is haunted by a woman he once had a chance to save but didn’t. Stallone is … well, he’s Stallone.

No one goes to “The Expendables” expecting Shakespeare, but the film’s script is so thin and flimsy the entire enterprise feels as if it’s built out of hype and marketing. Worse, Stallone is a terrible director, who constantly shoots scenes in close-up – so much so that you feel as if you’re watching the movie through binoculars. “The Expendables” is more fun to think about as a concept than it is to sit through – yet another reminder that the cinematic legacy of the ’80s was, in large part, dreck.

Film focus

WHAT: “The Expendables”

RATED: R, vulgar language, heavy violence, copious gore

RATING: 1 1/2 stars

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes

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