Sylvester Stallone Reheats the '80s

Statham shooting his gun from the nose of a plane--nothing phallic about that, nope.
Karen Ballard
The Dinner: Chicken satay skewers and Sinhga, at Thai Ginger (Pacific Place).

The Movie: The Expendables, at Pacific Place (600 Pine St.).

The Screenplate: You remember that time we were pinned down by Vietnamese machine-gun fire in that rice paddy? Or that time the Bosnian Serbs were shelling us? Or when we ran out of ammo fighting those Somali warlords? Neither do I. But like Ronald Reagan telling stories about WWII (meaning the movies he made about WWII), fellow '80s icon Sylvester Stallone can be forgiven his memory lapses. He stars in, directs, and co-wrote The Expendables, which doesn't just look back to his Rambo-Rocky heyday. It's like a compendium of action-movie clichés, but a good-natured compendium. Stallone, age 64, has the self-awareness to know he's repeating himself. And the bevy of aging action heroes he's hired to pad out the picture likewise know they've played these parts before. The '80s were good to them. So why not relive that decade's high-caliber excess one last time? And you know what else we like about the '80s? Thai food, which went from being vaguely exotic to mall-ubiquity during that decade...

Remember the '80s? Yuppies, yellow ties, power breakfasts, "Morning in America," the Cold War, Sony Walkmen, unconflicted action heroes battling Commies and drug lords from vaguely South American countries? That decade gave us Oliver Stone's Wall Street and "Greed is good," three Rambo movies, two Rocky sequels (III and IV, if you're counting), the first Die Hard, and countless Schwarzenegger vehicles.

The virtue to The Expendables is that it brings them all back: all the stars, all the bulging, steroidal muscles, all the casual violence and sexism, all the dim-witted excess... but presented with Ibuprofen and regret, aches and late midlife pains, where idealism is willing but the CG-assisted body is weak. Though Stallone might not deem it such, The Expendables is a male menopause flick for dudes who want to imagine that the HGH, motorcycles, and hair plugs might buy them a few more years of denial. The movie is to be enjoyed while it lasts (103 minutes, for those who are counting), precisely for its implausibility.

But before the neck-snapping, laser-guided snipers, plastic explosives, South American drug lords, and rogue CIA operatives commence, let's retire to the fourth-floor level of Pacific Place, where many filmgoers pause to eat. Sometimes you don't have time for a full, sit-down dinner before a show, especially on a weeknight. Rushing from work to a 7 o'clock show, efficiency is preferable to white linen table clothes and a full wine list. At the upper level of Pacific Place, your options are the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (slow, crowded), Johnny Rockets (a soul-killing exercise in '50s nostalgia), Pike Place Chowder (one step down from Ivar's), the Mexico Cantina Y Veracruz Cooking (OK, but better suited to a 9:00 movie), and Thai Ginger, part of a chain that also extends to the Eastside. The bar at Thai Ginger is our best bet for a quick in-and-out meal. Just as Stallone and company easily plant explosives, drop napalm from seaplanes, overcome mercenary armies, and hurl knives into the necks of endless prison guards, ordering at Thai Ginger is an efficient, uncomplicated process. Order, request the check immediately, watch the muted, closed-captioned TV screen over the bar, drink your beer, then wait for your food to arrive in about ten minutes. Simple.

The Expendables is an equally simple film. After being recruited by Bruce Willis (in a one-scene cameo), mercenary leader Stallone and his right-hand man Jason Statham gather a crew that includes Jet Li to battle some villains (Eric Roberts, Steve Austin, Dolph Lundgren, etc.) on a South American island republic being set up as a cocaine-growing operation. The evil dictator has a daughter (Giselle Itié) who inspires chivalrous feelings in Stallone, but they never kiss, since she's half his age. (Again, Stallone is aware of his age and limitations.) Statham, at 38, is the youngest name actor in the film. He briefly defends the honor of some girl in Los Angeles before the carnage begins, but his love is reserved for the all-male clubhouse (Tool's) run by tattoo artist Mickey Rourke. As in most '80s action flicks, women only get in the way of unconsummated bromance. (In his cameo, with Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger strides into a church backlit like a babe in a Whitesnake video, and Stallone later repeats the image with Itié.) Women may inspire tender feelings, but those feelings can only be expressed among men.

Thai Ginger, by contrast, is hardly macho. The hostesses and waitresses are demure and polite, the sort of women whom Rambo (or Stallone) would feel compelled to defend without ever quite learning their names. But like the South American dictator's palace that must be blown up, the objective here is chicken satay skewers with peanut sauce ($12.95) and a beer ($4), to be wolfed down at the bar before the movie begins. What to do with those little triangles of white toast? Stallone doesn't do white toast! Ignore them, and the four chicken skewers are tasty and boneless enough to be inhaled in 15 minutes or less. (There's usually enough peanut sauce left over for sopping up with the toast triangles, if you insist.)

Later, inside the cinema, you can gorge on popcorn and Junior Mints. But onscreen, Stallone sticks to his diet of egg whites and uncertain dietary supplements. In The Expendables, the bulging biceps and bagless eyes deny that three decades have passed. Once its heroes were young and powerful. Once Thai food was strange and new. Now we can coast on that memory, enjoy it, as if the '80s never ended.

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