The Expendables: Gallo Pinto: Costa Rican Beans and Rice

Year Released: 2010
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Randy Coutre, Stone Cold Steve Austin, David Zayas, Eric Roberts, Giselle Itie
(R, 103 min.)

"It ain’t over ‘til it’s over." Yogi Berra

Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure, but actually I feel no guilt whatsoever in my intense enjoyment of this testosterone – or perhaps human growth hormone –charged adventure that gives us another shot of those wonderful Hollywood-action-hero-has-beens who somehow never read their pink slips from politically correct tinseltown. And it is their self-aware irony that raises the exploding blood bath of a film to another level.

All of these actors know that they as well as the outlaw mercenaries they play in the film are the money making “expendables” for Hollywood. Their blow 'm up vehicles bring in the dough so their studios can make the “subtle” and “nuanced” films that critics gush over but the public ignores, such as George Clooney’s Syriana.

Well, guess what? The old guys, those wizened faces and crinkly eyes atop chemically enhanced sets of washboard abs still have it. Opening weekend was seen as a contest among our boys, Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love, and Michael Cera inScott Pilgrim Verses the World.

Critic Rupert Pupkin saw it as a showdown for American culture itself:

If an unashamed display of steroid-incubated testosterone is still as socially acceptable as it was in 1985, then The Expendables could very well steal the top spot at the box office. If Julia Roberts' estrogen or Michael Cera's wimpiness wins out, well, then Red Blooded America as we once knew it may very well be dead forever.

Well, Red Blooded American still breathes; the steroid-incubated testosterone won out over the estrogen – a 35 mil versus 23.7 mil opening with an anemic 10.5 mil also ran for the nerdy pilgrim.

Some think it was worth the price of admission just for the scene in a church with “the holy trinity of action heroes” – Sylvester Stallone playing Barney “Schizo” Ross, Bruce Willis as black ops CIA recruiter Mr. Church, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as fellow mercenary Trench Mausar -- meet to discuss a proposed suicide mission to unseat a corrupt general on an unknown island. Perhaps there’s still a little friction left over from their last unholy alliance, the ill-fated 1986 Planet Hollywood coalition of the three icons, as they trade razor sharp barbs and threaten to chop each other into doggie treats.

Or maybe Arnold is a little distraught over the bankruptcy looming over “Cal e Forn ia ,“ so he turns it down, but Barney’s explanation is even more telling. “I hear he wants to be President,” he explains.

The film also maintains the code of the 80s. The bad guys go down and it is not pretty, this “action orgasm” as former NFL player Terry Crews playing expendable Hale Caesar calls it. Sometimes they simply explode or shed their mortal coils due to an excessive amount of lead ushered into their bellies. A few fall prey to some Crocodile Dundee sized knives from the lethal hand of Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and one of the very bad boys goes down in flames. But take my word for it. There is no ambivalence here. These guys are evil. The general’s soldiers are bad, and the rogue CIA agent’s disciples are worse, so we don’t shed any tears when the body count mounts. 

An interesting marketing ploy, by the way, is the Body Counts for “The Expendables Cast”Poster, a Lionsgate poster that details the body counts accrued by each of the film’s leading stars throughout the duration of each actor’s career. The total killed over a period of almost 30 years is 1,593. Put that on the CNN headlines, I dare you.

The sense of chivalry prevails, too. Stallone is always tender as well as tough. No women kicking butt here, unless you count Jet Li as little guy Yin Yang in that category, but that’s not fair. Relative newcomer Giselle Itie as Sandra has plenty of courage, though she only fights with her eyes and her expressive paintings -- not unlike the famous ones by Mexico’s Frido Kahlo -- where the island beauties shed tears of blood for their besieged country.

Mickey Rourke, his life of ups and downs etched across his face as testimony to his struggles, is wonderful as Tool, an ex mercenary who now scouts jobs for the bunch as well as inking up their muscle-clad torsos with as many tattoos as you are likely to see on South Congress Street right here in Austin, Texas. One scene, where he recounts an incident with a suicidal woman could be maudlin in the hands of a lesser actor. With his understated approach it touches the soul, or at least the one he used to have.

Life incidents of other “Expendables” also echo their hardscrabble film back-stories. Jason Statham, “the go-to guy for handsome, cockney outlaws” once made ends meet by hawking knock-off designer goods on the streets of London, charming and engaging the passers by with his wit and banter. It served him well later as this Yahoo biography notes:

During his call-in for the role of a con artist named Bacon in Ritchie's first feature "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" (1998), Ritchie asked the untrained actor to impersonate an illegal street vendor and to convince him to buy imitation jewelry. It was a brilliant stroke of luck for Statham, who sold Ritchie four sets of the jewelry and refused to return his money at the end of the audition.

 Just a bit more film trivia to round out our cast: Jet li’s Yin Yang keeps quibbling over his pay as a sly joke about his own financial squabbles in the movie business. And did you know that Sylvester Stallone has that endearing slurred speech and drooping grin as a result of a forceps accident during his birth? Or that he was once voted “Most likely to end up in the electric chair” by his fellow classmates at the school for troubled youth he attended in Philadelphia, PA. What about Dolph Lundgren of Ivan Drago fame in Rocky IV and his master’s degree in chemical engineering or the seven languages spoken by this son of a Swedish Parliament member?

Don’t underestimate this crew or the film they star in. It’s not Shakespeare, but it is almost Greek in its twisted blood feuds and reprisals.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

The film takes place in thel South American Island country of Vilena, which really does not exist. Stallone filmed the island sequences in Costa Rica and Louisiana. Since both the country and the state are known for their beans and rice, what better choice is there than this Costa Rican favorite often served with huevos fritos (fried eggs) for breakfast.

Even our Cajun friends may have to forget their favorite red beans and try this variation with the black beans. And don’t forget that wonderful herb, cilantro, sure to liven up any dish it graces.

I bet even our action heroes could find time between shots or bullets to down some of this tasty dish.

Buen apetito!

Gallo Pinto: Costa Rican Beans and Rice

  • 1 lb (450 gr.) Black beans. Fresh are best but most likely you’ll find them dried.
  • 8-10 sprigs cilantro (coriander leaf) fresh or frozen, not dried!
  • 1 small or medium onion
  • ½ small red or yellow sweet pepper (optional)
  • 3 cups (700 ml) chicken broth or water
  • 2 cups (350 ml) white rice
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
  • 1 Tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
  • 1-3 Tablespoon oil to fry the Gallo Pinto

If beans are dried, cover with water and soak overnight, if they are fresh, just rinse them off. Drain the beans and add fresh water to an inch (2.5-cm) above the top of the beans, salt, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce heat to very low simmer until beans are soft (~3 hours).

Chop cilantro, onion, and sweet pepper very fine.

Add 1 Tablespoon oil to a large pan and sauté the dry rice for 2 minutes over medium high flame then add half of the chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro and sauté another 2 minutes. Add water or chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until rice is tender (20-35 minutes). This is also the recipe for Tico rice used in other favorites like tamales.

Once the rice and beans are cooked you can refrigerate or freeze them. Keep a significant amount of the “black water” with the beans (½-1 cup 120-240 ml). This is what gives the rice its color and some of its flavor. Sauté the rice, beans reserved chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro together in vegetable oil for a few minutes. Sprinkle with a little fresh chopped cilantro just before serving.

Once the rice and beans are cooked you can also refrigerate or freeze them. Make up small batches of Gallo Pinto when you want it by simply sautéing them together.

In Guanacaste they sometimes use small very hot red peppers instead of or in addition to the sweet. Some people add a tablespoon or so of salsa Lizano or Chilera to the beans while they're cooking. Our friend Mercedes always simmered the beans very slowly all-day and preheated the water or chicken broth for the rice.

Recipe Source: