Empire‘s Genevieve Harrison has broken the embargo on The Expendables (Lionsgate, 8.13) with a fairly tough pan. “More The Wild Geese than The Wild Bunch, The Expendables is not a wasted opportunity, but is one not fully exploited,” she writes. “Even action fans raised on Commando and Cobra might wish for something better.

Clive James once described Arnold Schwarzenegger as looking like ‘a condom filled with walnuts’ — now it’s the other way round. Perhaps that’s why director-writer-star Sylvester Stallone (64) has recruited young upstarts like Jason Statham (38) and Jet Li (47) to accompany fellow fossils-with-muscles Dolph Lundgren (52), Bruce Willis (55), Mickey Rourke (57) and Arnie (63) to take down the bad guys (and possibly the insurance premiums).

“If only Sly had spent less time on the phone to his mates, and more on the script.

“Instead it seems that, having assembled his dream cast — and thrown in wrestler ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Ultimate Fighting Champion Randy Couture for the ‘kids’ — Stallone clearly felt that such fuddy-duddy film staples as story, characterisation and dialogue that makes sense were, well, expendable.

“Sure, there’s some direct-to-video-level plotting and an attempt at creating motivation for Stallone and his fellow cigar-chompers to care — in a nutshell, ‘The general’s daughter is a hottie’ — but that’s really as far as it goes.

“As the film lurches from scene to scene, one becomes increasingly convinced that not only is everyone making it up as they go along (director Stallone shares a screenwriting credit, so it’s entirely plausible), but that Sly could only convince his cast to jump on board if he agreed to very specific, and often very strange, demands: ‘I want a scene where I kick Jet Li’s ass.’ ‘I want to blow up a dock from the open-air gun turret of a giant seaplane.’ ‘I want to meet Charisma Carpenter, can you fix us up?’ (And apparently, in the case of the much-ballyhooed on-screen team-up between Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis, ‘I want a scene with all the verbal and visual fireworks of a Planet Hollywood annual general meeting circa 1993.’)

“That said, The Expendables does what it says on the tin: it delivers a super-size portion of bone-cracking, bullet-spraying, muscle-flexing, head-exploding action, thankfully with the kind of tongue-in-cheek ironic distance which was fatally absent from Stallone’s last directorial outing, the ill-advised, ill-fated Rambo. Although the set-pieces are hardly on a par with the man-fires-tank-falling-out-of-plane antics of the all-new A-Team, the fight scenes prove that the almost-all-old ‘E’-Team can still cut it when push comes literally to shove.

“If nothing else, it gives the audience a chance to answer the perennial question, who would win a no-holds-barred fight between Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li?”