The Expendables 3 (12A, 126 mins)

The Expendables 3 (12A, 126 mins)

Director: Patrick Hughes

3 stars

To borrow a quote from one of this week's other releases, Hector and the Search for Happiness, nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

And yet it's pretty much all this creaky franchise has going for it. This third entry in the action star retirement home series is not well written, it's 30 minutes too long and the action isn't even particularly good.

And yet, for reasons that are mostly to do with the magnetism of sheer star wattage, it remains oddly watchable throughout.

It begins with a massive attack on a prison train by a handful of ageing mercenaries, the Expendables (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham et al), to bust out old comrade Wesley Snipes.

It's cheesy and daft to the extent that it must be a parody, brimful of macho posturing, which to some degree has been diluted this time around by the lighter tone, even if the attempts at banter are generally pretty feeble.

It lumbers to another set piece where an old foe turns up in the shape of Mel Gibson, a former Expendable turned arms dealer. Gibson adds real value here, with an admirably composed nutjob performance that demonstrates how much he's been missed from our screens in recent years.

And still the superstars get rolled out, with Harrison Ford securing a nice payday as a replacement for Bruce Willis, cameoing as a CIA boss who gives Stallone the mission to go after Gibson.

Whatever passes for a theme in the movie arrives with an acknowledgment that the Expendables might be getting a little long in the tooth for such silliness; the problem is they (and the film) don't really believe it.

But still we get a dead midsection where nothing happens while Stallone disbands the crew and teams up with Kelsey Grammer to recruit new younger members.

This takes an age, but at least comes with the addition of Antonio Banderas, who adds a touch of pep to the otherwise taciturn team.

For a 12A certificate the action is sturdy enough and the body count is astronomical (the climax see the Expendables take on literally an entire army) but a bit more blood might have helped.

The problem with the action is a physical and logistical one, with little sense of space given and too often overloaded with CGI or cut together much too maniacally.

But it all boils down to watching these stars do their thing, and the pleasure in that is undeniable.

Considering the cast is so massive it's still very much the Stallone show, since he came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay. Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li barely get a look in, but every once in a while, just seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford sharing the screen can be enough to raise a smile.

There are many winks and nods to past glories, and while you can only coast on nostalgia so long, hearing Arnie trot out some of his classic lines will be good enough for many.

See it if you liked: The Expendables, The Wild Geese, RED

The Rover (15, 103 mins)

Director: David Michôd

2 stars

Set in a harsh and unforgiving Australia "ten years after the collapse", this muscular but ultimately very disappointing thriller stars Guy Pearce, a loner we first meet in the middle of nowhere.

When a trio of criminals steal his car he gives chase but this is no Mad Max, although its setting suggests that scenario isn't too far away.

Along the way he picks up the injured brother (Robert Pattinson) of one of the thieves as we wonder why he wants his car back so badly.

Amid the dust and flies, The Rover crawls from scene to scene with little momentum, winning more points from grime and atmosphere than storytelling.

A gaunt and grizzled Pearce is commanding, but his dialogue consists of almost nothing beyond barked orders to the twitchy and miscast Pattinson.

It's incredibly sparing with explanations, which can often be a good thing, but in this case is just another indication that there's nothing under the surface, and when something does happen it seems to be a diversion without purpose.

The barren nihilism of a world not worth saving is convincingly captured, but it fails to engage on any emotional level and the laughable punchline simply adds insult to injury.

See it if you liked: The Proposition, The Road, Animal Kingdom

Hector and the Search for Happiness (15, 120 mins)

Director: Peter Chelsom

2 stars

Hector (Simon Pegg) is a successful psychiatrist with an ordered life and a loving partner (Rosamund Pike). In a bit of a rut and wondering if he is happy, he decides to go travelling in a film that is often as aimless as Hector is.

His research into what makes people happy gets him into scrapes and adventures in China and Africa in a clumsy bumble through the meaning of life, filled with colourful but not particularly engaging characters.

There's a bit of quirkiness to begin with, but anyone with expectations of typical Pegg shenanigans should look somewhere other than this mopey drama.

It takes a long time to warm to, and that includes Hector, and while a small handful of moments shine through as it improves in the second half, this is a difficult journey.

See it if you liked: Eat Pray Love, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, Bunny and the Bull

We Gotta Get Out of This Place (15, 90 mins)

Directors: Zeke Hawkins, Simon Hawkins

1 star

Bobby (Jeremy Allen White, sporting a permanent look of confusion) and Sue (Mackenzie Davis) are a pair of small-town teens about to head off to college.

But when Sue's dimwit boyfriend decides to steal from their shady boss (Mark Pellegrino, adding the only spark of life in an otherwise plodding affair), they end up mixed up with local gangsters instead.

It's a neo-noir but, y'know, for kids, but where Brick played with conventions, this simply substitutes dopey youngsters for believable adults.

Between the lethargy of the performances and the daftness of the plotting, it just doesn't feel authentic for a second.

It may aim for the heft of a Jim Thompson novel or a Springsteen song, but in reality it's harder to take seriously than Bugsy Malone.

See it if you liked: Cold in July, Blue Ruin, Brick

Blood Ties (15, 125 mins)

Director: Guillaume Canet

2 stars

One of the year's most impressive casts struggles to make an impact in this unwieldy and much too familiar-feeling crime saga set in 1970s New York.

The schism between Clive Owen's criminal and his cop brother (Billy Crudup) is at its heart, with loyalties strained when Owen struggles to go straight on his release from prison.

Commanding performances from these two keep it ticking over, but Marion Cotillard, Zoe Saldana and Mila Kunis are poorly served by a script that's only really interested in the fraternal relationship.

The period is nicely recreated, but it looks like TV and plays like it as well, with too many uninvolving storyline threads competing for attention.

And just because Scorsese uses music brilliantly in his films, that doesn't mean everyone should try it.

See it if you liked: Pride and Glory, We Own the Night, God's Pocket