Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham. Written by Richard Wenk, Sylvester Stallone. Directed by Simon West. 14A. 102 min. Opens Aug. 17.
For all the old-school thrills it promised as a class reunion for the most testosterone-soaked stars of the ’80s, The Expendables was a grim and gruelling exercise. That its brand of mayhem mostly consisted of faceless extras in camouflage gear getting blown to pieces was a sadder indication of the decline of American action cinema than the weathered faces or decrepit bodies of any of the actors.
Moviegoers ate it up anyway, which is why Sly Stallone’s ragtag gang of mercenaries has reconvened for a follow-up. But whereas the original only had traces of the campy humour audiences might have expected, The Expendables 2 fully embraces the potential for self-parody. Actually, it goes so far in that direction that it might as well be Hot Shots! Part Trois—all that’s missing is a little box in the corner with a running tally of kills.
This, of course, is not a bad thing, though Stallone’s continued ineptitude for wisecracks is one of many factors that spoil the fun. Returning to the role of head Expendable Barney Ross, Stallone leads his crew—augmented by newbies Billy (Liam Hemsworth) and Maggie (Nan Yu)—to a bleak corner of Eastern Europe. There, they try to prevent a whackload of plutonium from falling into the hands of a French meanie played by a marvelously smarmy Jean-Claude Van Damme. Plenty of other familiar geezers drop by, including Bruce Willis and Governor Schwarzenegger in larger roles than they had the first time around, plus what appears to be a wax dummy of Chuck Norris. But it’s more exciting to see Dolph Lundgren display some seldom-seen comedic chops as Gunnar, the team’s most destructive and pensive member.
With Con Air’s Simon West taking over directing duties from Stallone, the action sequences mark an improvement over the first film, but they still lack the flair found in countless other outings by the ensemble’s players. Nor does the new movie’s awareness of its own stupidity make it any less boneheaded when all is said, done, and demolished.