In the annals of Cannes PR-stunt hilarity, the sight of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Ford, Gibson, Statham et al. trundling down the Croisette in two tanks will be hard to beat this year. It trumps that inflatable Arnie from "Last Action Hero", Sacha Baron Cohen's lime-green mankini and Jerry Seinfeld zooming down a zipwire dressed as a bee for "Bee Movie". In fact, plans were afoot to have "The Expendables 3" gang take the zipwire route as well, until insurance costs scuppered that plan. So a pair of tanks it was...
At the ensuing press conference in the Carlton, "Expendables" bossman Sylvester Stallone proved such a convivial and humorous linchpin to proceedings that a later-life stage tour where he gets to expound upon his career in front of paying audiences must surely beckon (as already being undertaken by the likes of Al Pacino and John Travolta). But Stallone's not ready to hang up his ammo belt just yet. When one journalist inquired how an action hero knows when it's time to be put out to pasture, Stallone bristled mildly but dished out an amusing riposte: "I think you wake up in the morning and you turn around and your ass falls off. That's it. It's when a part of your body falls off. Because let me tell you something: we are children of arthritis."
It was one of many comical quips by Stallone, who was flanked on the top table by Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, with Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Dolph Lundgren and producer Avi Lerner ranged on either side of them. On the bottom row were junior franchise members Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell, Kellan Lutz, Randy Couture, Ronda Rousey (the token female), Kelsey Grammer and the film's Australian director Patrick Hughes, who called the third instalment of the franchise "a huge big fat piece of popcorn".
Sixteen minutes of behind-the-scenes footage screened prior to the press conference confirmed this will be a ramped-up version compared to previous instalments, with heftier action set-pieces and a dialling down of the comic smart-assery of part two. "In the second one, we went too far with the comedy and started doing too many one-liners," admitted Stallone. "I realised we should get more back to the dramatic. I believe that we finally got it right on the third one. Sort of like marriage."
The press conference was light on scintillating revelations, apart from the fact that the first cut came in at four hours ("and I liked it", said the former '80s action pillar), they're aiming for a PG-13 rating in the US (the other two were Rs) and Stallone had originally offered Gibson the "The Expendables 3" writing-directing gig. "He was busy but he goes, 'I'll act in the movie instead'," said Stallone. "I went, 'Damn, come on board!'"
Otherwise, it was chance for this line-up of old-guard Hollywood action and adventure stars (or, as Gibson, sporting a Mephistophelean beard, described the grouping: "a pile of icons") to strut their camaraderie and take jovial potshots at each other. The best example of that came when Stallone and Schwarzenegger, in response to a question about which of each other's roles they'd most liked to have played, bantered back and forth about a couple of abject failures in their respective careers: "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot" and "Junior". It bears repeating in full.
Schwarzenegger: I always wanted to be in that movie that Sly did. "Mama Don't Shoot", or what was it called?
Stallone: Oh, you know what... Didn't you have a baby in a movie once?
Schwarzenegger: I loved that movie because I saw Sly in diapers. It was a classic.
Stallone: I saw you giving birth in "Junior". What are you, crazy? I'd much rather be in love with my mother than give birth.
Schwarzenegger: That's the one film where I was most shell-shocked.
Stallone: And I thought he wasn't competitive.