Sunday, August 19, 2012


Watching the old-fashioned, larger-than-life, male-bonding epic “The Expendables 2” (**** OUT OF ****) is like enjoying a nostalgic jaunt down memory lane. A gallery of brawny 1980s era, action-hero icons assembles for this testosterone-laden tale that depicts combat on land, sea, and in the air with double-digit body counts. At one point, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis stand shoulder-to-shoulder, armed with automatic weapons, firing fusillades of bullets into wave after wave of pugnacious bad guys.  Joining Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis this time out are two more 1980s era action heroes: Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Along with these legendary leading men, newcomers Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins, and Nan Yu dodge bullets, too. Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, and Dolph Lundgren reprise their roles as Barney Ross’s tough-as-nails mercenaries. Just as sentimental as the original “Expendables,” “Expendables 2” conjures up ten times more carnage and demolition in its remote Bosnian settings.  Unlike the original, this ambitious sequel gives Schwarzenegger and Willis far more screen time to flesh out their identities.  While the dialogue amounts to amusing one-liners served up over twenty years ago in the advertising campaigns of “The Terminator” and “Die Hard,” the formulaic screenplay penned by Stallone and “16 Blocks” scribe Richard Wenk qualifies as a standard-issue revenge thriller. Essentially, you should prepare yourself for lots of eardrum numbing battle sequences interspersed with soul-searching dialogue scenes among the principals when they aren’t exposing themselves in the line of fire.  Nothing has really changed aside from a fresh, new setting in Albania that appears scenic in its own grungy way. 

“The Expendables 2” erupts with a series of slam-bang action scenes that resemble something “The A-Team” use to pull off every week during its five-year run on NBC.  Barney Ross and his pals show up in a squalid-looking town in Nepal on a ‘do or die’ mission to rescue a Chinese billionaire from some nasty extortionists. They careen into the city in military vehicles designed to smash through barriers of every description. These aggressive-looking trucks have clever names stenciled on them, such as ‘knock-knock’ and ‘bad attitude.’ Mind you, it doesn’t matter that our heroes are hopelessly outnumbered because they devastate the opposition mercilessly with artillery blasts and bursts from .50 caliber machine guns. At one point, Barney (Sylvester Stallone of 1981’s “Nighthawks”) cranks up a motorcycle and wields it like a weapon to bring down a helicopter.  Our heroes evacuate in motor-driven boats but find themselves pursued by trigger-happy soldiers in ‘Everglades’ air-boats armed with mortars. Momentarily detained in the jungle, Barney and Lee Christmas (Jason Statham of 1998’s ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) recover their seaplane and sweep down out of the sky like the cavalry as the villains are drawing a bead on their comrades.  There is even a revelation or two in all this bullet-riddled mayhem that takes Barney by surprise before they make their getaway.

After a round of beers back home, Barney runs into the dubiously named Mr. Church (Bruce Willis of 1988’s “Die Hard”) who has been waiting for him at the latter’s aircraft hangar.  Church dispatches Barney Ross and his cronies on ‘a walk in the park’ mission to crack a safe in a crashed jetliner. Church surprises Barney when he sends one of his own agents. She can open the mysterious safe without atomizing everybody.  Initially, Barney objects to bringing a woman along on the mission. As it turns out, Maggie Chan (NanYu of “Diamond Dogs”) allays Barney’s anxieties that she won’t be able to fend for herself. Maggie looks extremely lethal in combat against multiple male opponents. Our heroes have no problem locating the wreckage of the jet and a few tense moments ensue after they find the safe. Unfortunately, everything goes awry afterward, when an army of sadistic villains intervenes, demands the contents from the safe, and threatens to execute one of Barney’s unit if they don’t lay down their arms and hand over what they found in the plane crash. Motivated as much by the loss of one from their own ranks, Barney and company set out in furious pursuit of the villains.  An Eastern European crime cartel led by an appropriately named thug Jean Vilain (Jean Claude Van Damme of 1988’s “No Retreat, No Surrender “) has no qualms about killing. The information liberated from the safe contains the whereabouts of five-tons of plutonium abandoned by the Russians in a derelict mine during the Cold War. Vilain and his menacing minions have recruited slave labor from the location population at gunpoint to help them excavate the plutonium.

British director Simon West, who helmed “Con-Air,” “Laura Croft, Tomb Raider,” and “The Mechanic,” rarely allows the pace to slow down in this noisy extravaganza, especially when the heroes and villains are blasting away at each other with murderous glee. West and “xXx: State of the Union” editor Todd E. Miller never unnecessarily linger on a single image.  Some of the editing seems almost subliminal.  Clocking in at a nimble 102 minutes, “The Expendables 2” offers double the action with double the stars. “Lone Wolf McQuade” star Chuck Norris finds himself in the fray and shows that he still possesses the stamina. It is difficult to believe that all these guys, who once battled it out among themselves for box office supremacy, have come together to make such an outlandish but entertaining opus. For the record, Dolph Lundgren’s character, Gunnar, has cleaned up his act from the original and is back with Barney and company. Gunnar still picks on agile, pint-sized Jet Li while Barney and Lee bicker with each other about anything and everything. If you saw “The Expendables,” you know that Lee Christmas had fallen in love with a gal who let her sadistic boyfriend beat up on her.  Lee and Lacy (Charisma Carpentar of TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) are now a couple. Conspicuously absent from the cast is Mickey Rourke who played the philosophical Tool in the original.  If you loved the original “Expendables,” you’ll love “The Expendables 2.” Rumors are flying that the producers are already casting a third installment in the franchise.