Once more the screen gets jammed with aging action stars out to prove they’ve still got the right stuff in “The Expendables 2.” The movie really needs some sort of subtitle — something like “They Do It Old School.”
This would refer not just to the age of its cast members but the emphasis on stunts rather than CGI (although CGI runs throughout the entire movie), classic rock music on the soundtrack and hoary war-movie clichés that litter the screenplay.
Either you find this sort of stuff entertaining or you don’t. Personally, I rather enjoy an action movie that looks like everyone is still fighting World War II instead of aliens or high-tech spies.
Thrusting tongue deeply into cheek, the film features several gags and lines that signal the comic nature of the whole affair especially the screen entrances accorded the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and semi-retired martial artist/action star Chuck Norris.
The screenplay with its many authors including star Sylvester Stallone is so damn generic you can’t tell what country the story takes place in or for whom the good or the bad guys are fighting. Indeed the major Euro-trash adversary, played with a sneer permanently etched into his face by Jean-Claude Van Damme, is named Jean Vilain, a mere “l” removed from a simple easy-to-remember label.
The MacGuffin everyone is fighting and dying for is five tons of plutonium, more than enough to “change the balance of power in the world,” as one character notes followed by the remark: “I find that interesting.”
- Every shot fired by a good guy hits its mark.
- Every shot filed by a villain misses wildly.
- Explosions a couple of feet in front of the heroes do nothing more than toss them harmlessly to the ground.
- Explosions amid villains destroy everything in sight.
- The girl — in this case self-assured Chinese actress Yu Nan — can beat the crap out of any man.
- And the fighter who stares off into space and talks about the girl he’s going to marry once he quits this stupid fighting — well, he’s a goner. Dead by the end of the first act.
In his case though, he has another strike against him. He’s not an aging action hero and is therefore — Expendable.
The film apparently was shot primarily in Bulgaria and aims for a far Eastern European close to Asia Minor vibe. In the extended curtain-raiser action, you’re treated to a rescue mission by this lovable mercenary gang to re-introduce the cast from the previous film and welcome a few newcomers.
The sheer silliness of this opening sequence underscores the key point that the actors are here to remind you of previous movie roles — the endless “I’ll be back” lines surrounding Schwarzenegger, for instance — and how loaded the deck is against anyone going up against the Expendables.
Moments after the successful rescue of a VIP, who typically for the film is never really identified, and Schwarzenegger, who perhaps was his minder, Bruce Willis sweeps in to demand that Expendables’ leader, Stallone, perform “a walk in the park” mission to retrieve the aforementioned McGuffin and perhaps to stretch his legs a little.
For no particular reason Stallone is tasked with taking along a female, the aforementioned Yu, which in the macho style of the movie Stallone considers an exercise in “babysitting.”
As you would expect, things go mightily wrong and our aging warriors — these include Jason Stratham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren,Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth and Scott Adkins — must seek revenge against Vilain for his unnecessary execution of one of their own and, of course, get back the plutonium.
Stallone and Stratham quickly settle into an Odd Couple routine of two dudes who can only express their man-love through mock quarrels. Lundgren has the most fun with his former image, playing a character with a once mighty brain and post-grad degrees who nowadays only experiences flashes of his previous self.
The others more or less play their roles straight so that some of the bigger names can earn laughs. (However, Stallone’s “Rest in pieces” line to a body riddled with a hundred bullets isn’t as funny as it probably sounded on paper.)
Ah but nothing tops Chuck Norris’ entrance into the movie: The good guys are pinned down in a town that looks like a deserted movie set, then suddenly every bad guy is dead and their tank blown up. What the … ?
Moments later, Norris strolls in. How did he do that? More problematic, the music accompanying his entrance is Ennio Morricone, more closely associated with Clint Eastwood, a much tougher movie dude than any you see in “The Expendables 2” so the association is wrong.
Schwarzenegger mostly takes up space and Willis has little to do since the story line keeps both off screen for most of the film. This probably was part of their contrasts.
The curious things here is that R rating. The movie doesn’t deserve one since no one uses bad language — you can thank Norris for that — the violence is all quick shots and cuts without an audience seeing any gore and no one even smokes dope. Apparently, Internet fans howled with rage at the thought of an action movie getting a PG-13 so somehow Lionsgate edited in enough material or pleaded with the MPAA for a more restrictive rating.
Proof once again how morally bankrupt the MPAA’s movie rating system has become. No, I can’t prove it. All I can say is that nothing on the screen warrants more than a mild PG-13. That too, if you think about it, is Old School.
Opens: August 18, 2012 (Lionsgate)
Production companies: Lionsgate and Millennium Films present a Nu Image production
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Stratham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins, Yu Nan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Director: Simon West
Screenwriters: Richard Wenk, Sylvester Stallone
Story by: Ken Kaufman & David Argosto, Richard Wenk
Based on characters created by: David Callahan
Producers: Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton, Danny Lerner, Les Weldon
Executive producers: Jon Feltheimer, Jason Constantine, Eda Kowan, Basil Iwanyk, Guymon Casady, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson
Director of photography: Shelly Johnson
Production designer: Paul Cross
Music: Brian Tyler
Costume designer: Lizz Wolf
Editor: Todd E. Miller
R rating, 103 minutes