Friday, November 23, 2012

DVD/Blu-ray: Turn off sound and "Expendables 2" offers junky, all-brawn-and-no-brains fun




The Expendables 2 (2012) 
103 min., rated R.

It simply comes down to this: if you think you're going to like "The Expendables 2," you'll probably like "The Expendables 2." Now, of course, your expectations will be decided on having seen 2010's "The Expendables," or "The AARP-Team," where the concept of seeing some over-the-hill action stars occupy the same space sounded like every macho man's wet dream. But, as we all know, what seemed like gold on paper didn't translate as well in the execution. So, if memory serves, the first bullet-riddled sausage-fest was too self-serious and mostly boring, and truly expendable junk. It didn't matter, natch, because two years later, we're here with "The Expendables 2." The good news? The sequel is what the first one should have been: it's still disposable junk, but gleefully mindless, fleet-footed, and unpretentious junk with, again, all brawn and no brains. 

After the Expendables rescue a hostage, including mercenary Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), in Nepal, the "plot proper" gets underway when leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is approached (and intimidated) by villainous CIA agent Church (Bruce Willis) in New Orleans. Church has another a deal for Barney for doing damage in Atlanta and stealing $5 million dollars from him. Sent with Barney and his muscular team of badasses—knife specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture), chemical engineer Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and their newest recruit, ex-military sniper Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth)—is combat-proficient Maggie Chan (Yu Nan) to retrieve an important case in a downed airplane in Albania. The mission is supposed to be a walk in the park, until they're ambushed by Jean Vilian (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a criminal arms dealer with a Satan tattoo on his neck. Vilian kills one of the Expendables, so Barney and his men follow through on his motto, "Track 'em, find 'em, kill 'em."

Stallone is no longer at the helm, probably because he showed little to no competence in directing an action scene, which consisted of shaking the camera like a cocktail shaker and telling his editors to Cut! Cut! Cut! until all spatial geography was invisible to the eye. Rather, director Simon West (he of the guilty pleasure "Con Air") mans this follow-up with a slightly bigger budget, more cleanly cut action, and less long-faced seriousness. "The Expendables 2" wastes no time delivering the shoot-'em-up goods, which is most always a problem in that we have no investment in anything that's going on. Oh well, because West pitches the action at an insanely ridiculous cartooniness, from its shoot-everything-in-sight opener that ends with the guys blowing away baddies while zip-lining through the South Asian forest.

Whatever Richard Wenk and Stallone wrote on Final Draft doesn't matter, so turn the volume down and just enjoy this action palooza. The laughably obvious dialogue needed to be tossed like these Golden Boys need to lay off the steroids, and the self-aware but groan-inducing wisecracks could've punched up the cheek. Put these aging action stars in wheel chairs and then it might be funny, but most of what they get to say is a lot of lame misfiring. Here are a few samplings of what's uttered: Schwarzenegger calls Lundgren "Frankenstein." Crews jokes with Arnie, "If I don't get this back, your ass is terminated." To his enemies, Statham quips, "I now pronounce you man and knife!" Stallone shoots down some thugs and goes, "Rest in pieces." And then glory-day lines "I'll be back" and "Yippee ki-yay!" are both exchanged but reversed from who you'd expect.

Finding character development and any stinkin' story that we care about is like finding an Oscar-winner in Jean-Claude Van Damme's filmography. These characters aren't memorable, but the actors—a loose term here—do what they do. The leathery Stallone looks like he's ready to pop a blood vessel in his biceps. Van Damme snarls in broad villain fashion as Vilian. Schwarzenegger and Willis, both given a little more screen time but still not much, have fun bouncing has-been witticisms off of one another. Statham has his moments, but Crews, Couture, and Lundgren are barely there. Jet Li appears in the first scene, says "See you later, alligator," and then never returns. Hemsworth outshines all of them in the acting department as Billy, who left the love of his life to take the job with Barney's team. Chuck Norris (yes, he's still alive after his "Walker, Texas Ranger" days) also shows up for four minutes as lone wolf Booker (which are both pokes at "Lone Wolf McQuade" and "Good Guys Wear Black"), entering with the howling melody from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

Those that don't require more than wisecracking, blood spurting, guts exploding, and stuff getting blown up real good will be pleased. The mano-a-mano fight between Stallone and Van Damme with their fists and chains is satisfying, as is an earlier homage to the propeller death in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." "The Expendables 2" still has nothing on "The Raid: Redemption," but it's enough, and a bit more fun than its predecessor, even if that doesn't sound like much of an endorsement. It sets out to entertain undemanding action buffs with cheesy one-liners and cheerfully extreme killing, so it achieves that rudimentary goal. They'll cheer over all the testosterone bleeding off the screen.

Grade: B -

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