"The Specialist" does not require the services of a movie critic so much as a bomb-sniffing dog, who could crouch at the foot of the ticket booth and yap like a maniac, warning the unwary to take cover.
Where to begin? The movie is, as they say, a target-rich environment.
Let's begin, therefore, with the biggest of them all. That's Stallone, Sylvester Stallone. In this movie -- why should this movie be any different than any of his others? -- he has exactly two expressions. The first is a kind of hang-dog, sappy dolor, his facial muscles so limp that the flesh falls off his skull and turns his eyes to droopy eggs. This one signifies world-weariness, inner agony, the special delicacy of a man who's been wounded by the world. Hemingway? Conrad? Don Johnson? Think again: It rather resembles the existential state known as dyspepsia -- too many chile dogs, not enough Rolaids.
Then there's expression No. 2. It can best be defined by absence, not presence. It seems to affiliate itself with no known human emotion, it communicates no identifiable state of mind, it feels unrelated even to fundamental facts of animal existence such as hunger or fear. It is a vaguely disassociative bundle of features that communicate the inescapable statement that "this is the face of Sylvester Stallone."
Wearing his Janus-like mug throughout, Stallone lurches and mutters his way through "The Specialist" as one Ray Quick (I kid you not), former demolitions studboy for "The Agency," but one whose darn code (no women, no kids) always got him in hot water with the higher-ranking psychos who wanted to send everybody to heaven and let God sort 'em out. Now a freelance blower-upper after a tiff with supervisor Ned Trent (I love the names!), he works out of Miami, where he's been hired by May Munroe (!) (Sharon Stone) to take out the Latino crime family that years back murdered her mother and father while she hid in the closet.
But what kind of Latino crime family is this? Well, it's not the Latino kind. Rather, it's the actors' studio kind, with ace hams Eric Roberts and Rod Steiger trying to suppress the giggles and stay in character as the father and son. Alas, their accents keep slipping. Steiger seems to be trying to recapitulate his entire career. He thinks it's the American Film Institute tribute to himself that he's never going to get, with bits from "On the Waterfront," "The Pawnbroker" and "In the Heat of the Night" pulled out at random.
But these two titans of megalomania cannot hold a candle to James Woods' nutcase Ned Trent, forever exploding into pyrotechnical effects. It's as if he's doing an imitation of Tom Clancy reading the Christopher Buckley review of "Debt of Honor" in the Times: he spits, he howls at the moon, he brays and snorts and sweats and rants. Jim, you've already got the part! You can stop auditioning!
Plot? Dumb, dumber, dumbest. She wants the bad guys blowed up. Stallone blows them up. End of plot. None of the gambits particularly work, including one incomprehensible sequence in which Stone seems to die, gets her obit published in The Herald, and then walks out of the shadows with the lamest excuse in the world. The movie doesn't seem rooted in any professional world either, and makes no attempt to capture the nuances of spook culture. For example, why would Stallone, supposedly a pro, use a very sophisticated bomb on his first target, a low-ranking, unguarded enforcer? He could just pop the guy with a 9 mm, arousing no suspicions in a world flooded with 9 mms; the bomb, of course, is so sophisticated that it immediately warns his antagonists that a very gifted demolitions professional is after them. (On the other hand, they are so stupid they take no precautions either).
The bombs stink. They seem more like TV remotes or laptops than infernal devices. And when they detonate, please! There's not one true explosion in "The Specialist." Rather, what director Luis ("Sniper") Llosa offers is primarily sheets of propane flame -- whooshes, not bangs. These puffy babies hardly break any windows.
The only one to emerge with honor intact from all the phony explosions and purple-lidded macho posing and flexing is Stone. She is at least trying to mount a professional performance. She's the specialist; everybody else is a rank amateur.
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone and James Woods. Directed by Luis Llosa. Warner Bros. R-rated.