Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Expendables 2 / ** (R)

Barney Ross: Sylvester Stallone
Lee Christmas: Jason Statham
Maggie: Yu Nan
Vilain: Jean-Claude Van Damme
Gunner Jensen: Dolph Lundgren
Hale Caesar: Terry Crews
Toll Road: Randy Couture
Bill the Kid: Liam Hemsworth
Yin Yang: Jet Li
Hector: Scott Adkins
Church: Bruce Willis
Trench: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Booker: Chuck Norris

Lionsgate presents a film directed by Simon West. Written by Richard Wenck and Sylvester Stallone and Ken Kaufman & David Agosto. Based on characters created by David Callaham. Running time: 102 min. Rated R (for strong bloody violence throughout).

While I was excited for the original “Expendables” to feature a who’s who of 80s action picture musclemen, I was disappointed with the outcome. I had hope, though, that a second go at it might produce better results, I’m now forced into the conclusion that these movies just aren’t made for me.

I get it. These movies are really just an excuse to assemble a bunch of recognizable action actors to take bows for their contributions to the action genre. These nods include lines from their iconic roles, an elevated kill rate, a bunch of explosions and some very loud guns. We’re not looking for award winning results here. I just wish they had tried to make a good action movie out of this premise. Alas, the filmmakers’ list of goals does not include competent filmmaking or good storytelling.

There is a plot for some reason, although traditional storytelling elements like character development are dropped for the sake of more action elements like a plane with a cannon in its nose. I’d hate to be the engineer forced to work out the aerodynamics of that design. The team is hired by Church again to recover a box from a plane that has crashed in Albania. They don’t know what is in the box. They find out just about as soon as they find the box when the not so cleverly named Vilain, who happens to be the villain played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, takes it from them.

There are no real introductions to the characters, not that there’s much need. If you saw the first film, you know the crew. If not, you’re on your own, much as we all were with the first film. There are a couple of new additions, including a young sniper played by Liam Hemsworth (“The Hunger Games”) and Maggie, an agent of Church’s, played by Yu Nan (“Speed Racer”). Obviously, action icons don’t play these characters. They seem to exist to give some semblance of a diverse world in which this absurdity takes place.

Bruce Willis is back as the job man Church and Arnold Schwarzenegger returns as the mercenary competitor Trench. Their roles aren’t much bigger this time around, but apparently there were enough complaints about their lack of involvement in the action last time that they were allowed to lock and load this time. Mostly they make poorly delivered one liners that reference their most famous roles, but it was fun to see the two of them driving around an airport in a mini car with giant guns blowing away bad guys. Another addition to the cast is Chuck Norris, who proves its more entertaining to watch these old timers blow bad guys away than it is to watch them act.

In fact, the only truly entertaining characters in the cast are the two played by Terry Crews and Randy Couture. They, and the two newcomers Nan and Hemsworth, are the only cast members who don’t deliver every line as if it’s supposed to be some classic one-liner. Couture, a former mixed martial artist, surprisingly is the most natural actor of the bunch. His one-liners don’t even sound like one-liners. He and Crews build upon the comedic repertoire they established in the first film.

As I close in on my conclusion to this review, I realize I haven’t even mentioned the two primary characters, played by Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham. As the leaders of these mercenaries they continue their stiff relationship without any more chemistry than they had in the first picture. Stallone’s and Statham’s action styles don’t really match up well. I would’ve thought they’d get more comfortable with each other in this second film, but they seem even more separated by their differences this time out. Stallone is sentimental and brutal while Statham has a more suave and mysterious approach. They’re never really believable as an odd couple team.

I saw this movie with a very enthusiastic audience. I wanted to enjoy it as much as they did, but the jokes never rang as funny as the laughs they seemed to produce. All of these aging action stars seem to me like their steroid stretched skin is starting to leather up to a degree where they creak with every move. They all seem too in love with what they’ve done in the past to understand that here they’re not really doing anything but saying, “Hey, remember that time when I said that thing?” It’s like The Chris Farley Show, except without Farley’s keen comedic delivery.


Dan O. said...

A lot better than the first because of the loads and loads of carnage that were involved and also just how much more fun everybody seems to be having. In my opinion, fun is all that matters when you have a flick like this. Nice review Andrew.

Andrew Wells said...

Thanks for the comment Dan. You know, something I meant to say in the review, but never got around to was that this one is much better than the first one. The action sequences are much better choreographed and edited. I found that there was too much distracting from its good qualities to recommend it, but it is more satisfying than the first one.