Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chuck Norris is not the cause, merely an alibi. The irony of a PG-13 Expendables II.

This story broke yesterday (I first read it yesterday morning at Collider), but since it was based on a translation of an interview that actor Chuck Norris gave to a Polish magazine, I thought I'd wait to make sure it wasn't a mistranslation.  But Sylvester Stallone has confirmed to Ain't It Cool News that The Expendables II will indeed be PG-13, although his explanation doesn't specifically blame Mr. Norris.  To wit, here, translated into English, is the 'offending' portion of Chuck Norris's interview:

"In Expendables 2, there was a lot of vulgar dialogue in the screenplay. For this reason, many young people wouldn’t be able to watch this. But I don’t play in movies like this,” Norris explained. “Due to that I said I won’t be a part of that if the hardcore language is not erased. Producers accepted my conditions and the movie will be classified in the category of PG-13."

And here is Sly Stallone's confirmation:

"Harry (Knowles), the film is fantastic with Van Damme turning in an inspired performance... Our final battle is one for the ages. The PG13 rumor is true, but before your readers pass judgement, trust me when I say this film is LARGE in every way and delivers on every level. This movie touches on many emotions which we want to share with the broadest audience possible, BUT, fear not, this Barbeque of Grand scale Ass Bashing will not leave anyone hungry..."

What is strange about this is not that Stallone and his band of 80s and 2000s action stars are catering to the whims of one very over-the-hill action icon, or that Norris thinks that hearing profanity is more harmful to youngsters than watching over-the-top violence (in a pre-Sopranos/24 era, Walker: Texas Ranger was once considered the most violent show on television).  No what's strange is that the first Expendables, judging on the theatrical cut, was clearly intended to be a PG-13 in the first place.  Watching the film back in August 2010, I distinctly remember thinking that this was an awfully soft R, and that up until a certain third-act action sequence involving Stallone with a knife, it appeared that there wasn't going to be all that much R-rated violence at all.  Stallone and company waffled back and forth prior to the film's release about its rating, and I am still convinced to this day that it was always intended to be a PG-13 movie.

As I mentioned in my initial theatrical review, the film is basically a PG-13 action picture with periodic bits of R-rated gore tossed in.  But most of these scenes feel like inserts and many of them are basically stand-alone moments.  For example, the opening gun-battle aboard a cargo chip (which is basically the only first-act action sequence) is relatively bloodless, especially as the night-vision goggles renders much of the violence in various infrared colors.  But the opening salvo of that sequence, when Lundgren blows a guy in half with a projectile weapon, is the only thing about that sequence that merits an R-rating, and its shot and edited in such a way that it could have been easily removed from the film without harming the narrative.  It's a completely stand-alone sequence.  Most of the hard violence is like that, and it all feels like it was either inserted during reshoots or originally shot in such a way that it could be easily altered depending on the ratings requirements.  The big second act sequence (when Statham strafes the 40-some fighters from a plane) has almost no gore to speak of, while the big third-act gore highlight (Stallone rescues Giselle Itie from rape-minded captors via bloody knife-work) can almost completely cut out when the film comes to FX in a year or so (since she ends up as Eric Roberts's hostage in the finale anyway, it's a needless sequence).  

The only extended sequence that would have needed severe altering is the climactic moment when Terry Crews uses a 'bfg' to blow a dozen or so enemy soldiers to smithereens.  And even that moment, if the blood is CGI (which I don't recall) could have been cut around.  Not only is most of the violence the kind of big body count/low gore stylized carnage that can usually skate by with a PG-13, the film isn't exactly filled with profanity.  According to Screen It, there are just 46 instances of any profanity in the 105 minute picture, with only eight F-words during that time.  Frankly, I don't remember hearing a single one, but Screen It is a trusted source on this kind of thing, so I'll only say that I distinctly remember Eric Roberts using the word 'friggin' at least twice in moments of anger.  Point being, you have only eight uses of the word 'fuck'.   I can't say if they were or were not looped in after the fact, or whether they were intended to be looped if need be, but you still have a 'hard R' action movie with only a few real gore highlights, all of which were stand-alone and existing almost out of context with the rest of the picture. Add to that just a smattering of R-rated language and absolutely no sexual content, and it's pretty clear that The Expendables was intended to be a PG-13 picture at least during principal photography.

It is only the strong worldwide success of the first The Expendables that makes Stallone's announcement a surprise.  How much of the excitement over the first picture was actually based on its R-rating I can only speculate, but I would speculate that it didn't hurt in the least.  But Lionsgate and whomever is distributing the picture overseas surely want those under-17 ticket-buyers, especially as it's a sequel and thus likely to draw in those who enjoyed the original regardless of its rating. Chuck Norris just gave them an excuse to neuter the film for theatrical release.  The question is whether they will need his permission to release an R-rated cut on Blu Ray several months later...

Scott Mendelson

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