A towering corned-beef special of a movie, The Expendables - directed by Sylvester Stallone, and starring Stallone with a crew of aging action heroes - harks back to the days of Rambo and Universal Soldier, when men were men and banana republics could be blown up with impunity.

Chomping stogies, flexing their tattoos, and striding through a mess of low-budget carnage (the decapitations and dismemberments are especially cheesy) Stallone is accompanied in this retro exercise by Jason Statham (the youngster of the bunch), Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, wrestling star Steve Austin, a couple of other dudes and Eric Roberts - the latter in full-bore, ham-it-up bad-guy mode.

Stallone is Barney Ross, a seasoned (that's an understatement) mercenary hired by the CIA to dispose of a Latin American dictator and the snarling Yankee coke-dealer (Roberts) by his side.

The island nation is called Vilena, and even though Barney and his dinosaurs quickly recognize that they're on a suicide mission, they proceed anyway. Why let imminent mortality ruin the fun of blowing stuff up?

Before the first half hour's out, they've killed at least 40 Vilenian army goons, set fire to the docks, and flown the coop in their plane, ironically insignia-ed with the words Global Wildlife Conservatory.

But Barney decides he has to come back to the island to save the beautiful artist Sandra (Giselle Itié), who happens to be both (1) a staunch anti-dictator activist and (2) the daughter of the dictator.

Although Sandra is a babe, it's clear from the bonding going on back at Tool's Garage - a tattoo parlor whose namesake is played by a pipe-smoking, streaky-haired Rourke - that babes take a backseat to good ol' male camaraderie. Look up homoerotic subtext in the dictionary and there's probably a publicity still from The Expendables next to the entry.

The trailers already have given away the "surprise" cameos in The Expendables, so try not to blink when Stallone goes into a church (shades of John Woo) to meet his mystery boss, played by a bald-pated, trademark smirking Bruce Willis.

"What's my oldest worst friend doing here?" grunts Barney affectionately.

And then the governor of California, yup, Arnold Schwarzenegger, swaggers in. Stallone! Willis! Schwarzenegger! They're lovin' it, so I guess we have to, too.EndText

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/