Films overstuffed with stars historically tend to be comedies more memorable for their swollen casts and related excesses than for quality. The list runs nearly as long as the flicks' credits: "Cannonball Run," "Rat Race," the original "Casino Royale," and the bloated granddaddy of them all, whose very title goes far overboard – "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" – to name a few.
All have their moments (think Jonathan Winters' rampage in the 3 ½-hour "Mad World"). But much of the entertainment value, when viewed then and now, rests in the gimmick.
No one can accuse Sylvester Stallone, famously nicknamed Sly, of ever meeting a gimmick he didn't like. With his name leading 16 others atop the title of "The Expendables 3," which opens Aug. 15, Stallone's own mad, mad, mad, mad world of movie making officially expands far beyond-"Rambo" proportions.
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Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appeared in "The Expendables 2," is the other top returnee to a cast whose newcomers include Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson and, most significantly, Harrison Ford. Fans are bound to be drawn as much as by morbid curiosity as by an opportunity to pay tribute – and perhaps say a collective goodbye – to the last of the old school action heroes.
Stallone set the tone four years ago as a co-writer and director of the first "Expendables" installment, deftly mixing winking humor with eye-popping action sequences in his tale about a band of aging mercenaries. The pull of the old guys is no joke: The first two flicks grossed nearly $580 million worldwide.
With “The Expendables 3” everything gets blown up – except for the formula, which takes on new, if familiar ingredients. All but four of the movie’s stars are over 40 –11 are over 50 and four are past 60. Ford, the elder statesman of action stars, tops out the maturity meter at 72.
Timing plays as much a role as age. August release dates proved box office boons for the series’ first two editions, attracting summer crowds looking for some old-school escapism. The films also tap into the nostalgia that helped buoy recent reboots of "Robocop" and "Total Recall." The current box office champ and the top contender for most fun adventure movie of the summer, "The Guardians of the Galaxy" starring Chris Pratt, is in great part, an homage to Ford’s turns as Indiana Jones and Han Solo.
So bring on the stars, the laughs and the action for the latest whirl of the “Expendables” franchise. Stallone and Co. are set to prove that, to invoke a key gag from "It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," their generation of action heroes has yet to kick the bucket. They’re too busy kicking something else.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.