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Muscles & mayhem

The old guys are back, but they can't seem to find the missing plot

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It's nice to see the older folk getting work in Hollywood, even if what they do is basically what they did, except more so and with wrinkles. Exhibit A is Tommy Lee Jones in Hope Springs, a superannuated romantic comedy in which his crankiness meter is set to Impossible and his creased look of unhappiness -- as if he's smelled something rotten, possibly in the screenplay -- now resembles the skin of an especially aggrieved rhinoceros.

Things are only slightly improved in The Expendables 2, another crack at a group of fairly ancient action heroes, including Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis, with special appearances by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme. One assumes Steven Seagal was busy having his topknot rebraided that day, because he's about the only one missing.

The crew has been joined by some younger blood, notably Liam Hemsworth, but The Expendables franchise has become a place to salute the old-fashioned action movie, with its absurd missions, improbable explosions, vertiginous body counts and serviceable biceps. Stallone is still buff at 66, and Terry Crews, returning as Caesar, looks as if he could bench-press the entire Rambo series. Schwarzenegger is beginning to get a tad jowly -- The Expandables? -- but he makes up for it by being the guy with the most signature lines: "I'll be back," he says, to which Willis replies, "You've been back enough."

The Expendables 2 needs its sense of humour. The story has Barney Ross (Stallone), a veteran mercenary, reuniting his troupe -- Lee (Jason Statham), Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Caesar, along with Billy The Kid (Hemsworth) -- on a mission to find a mysterious computer program locked in the safe of a crashed plane.

There's also a woman, Maggie (Yu Nan), but she appears to be a forlorn attempt to attract female filmgoers. It's unlikely: The Expendables is boys' town, even if the boys are in their 60s. If there's a love story, it's the bromance hinted at in the fact that Stallone and Statham wear matching flat caps until it's time to fight, when they change into matching berets.

They're back in action because a government type named Church (Willis) says he'll throw them in jail otherwise. However, judging from the film's crash-and-burn opening, in which the crew busts into a Nepalese military base to rescue a Chinese billionaire, they haven't made the jail that can hold Sylvester Stallone, not to mention Dolph Lundgren. His character is a giant Swede who combines mayhem with a degree in chemical engineering -- he mentions that he's a Fulbright scholar -- who writes Einstein's special theory of relativity on a napkin and then blows his nose in it. You don't want to mess with the Expendables.

The hunt for the computer thing is thwarted by the Sangs, a gang led by Van Damme, who has maintained both his physique and his signature lack of charisma. He's a villain whose only distinguishing characteristic is the fact that he's played by someone who is famous for having no distinguishing characteristics.

The result is a showcase of muscles -- Stallone and Van Damme have a memorable flex-off -- an impressive load of firepower, and not much else. The Expendables 2 is self-referential but never post-modern: it lacks symbolic subtext or deeper meaning. Seeing Chuck Norris appear with a machine gun to mow down a host of disposable villains is interesting only as a piece of nostalgia.

It's a quality the movie underlines with its baby boomer soundtrack (Little Richard's Rip It Up over a big gun battle in a faux 1950s set). Director Simon West (The Mechanic, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), taking over for Stallone, tries to add some emotional underpinnings, but it's hard to know whether they're parodies: the death of a comrade, for instance, when Barney's perennial sneer deepens from "relentless" to "something stinks." Sylvester Stallone, meet Tommy Lee Jones.

-- Postmedia News

 

Other voices

Selected excerpts from reviews of The Expendables 2.

 

Has the parallel between the actor and the mercenary's trade ever been so overt?

-- Nick Pinkerton,

Village Voice

 

Taut, humorous and attractively packaged, the sequel is both fleet footed and engaging enough to captivate audiences with more than just nonstop action.

-- Justin Lowe,

Hollywood Reporter

 

Redundant, bombastic and cheekily self-aware, The Expendables 2 is also savvy enough to supply its own auto-critique.

-- Justin Chang, Variety

 

The Expendables 2 isn't nearly clever enough to operate as an actual action movie as well as a parody of one, but it is a good amount of fun.

-- Katey Rich,

CinemaBlend.com

 

Chuck Norris is also in this movie, although you should know that he gets roughly five minutes of screen time, half of those devoted to his telling of a Chuck Norris joke.

-- Rene Rodriguez,

Miami Herald

 

It may be all brawn and no brain, but there's plenty to enjoy on a non-cerebral level here.

-- Ben Rawson-Jones,

Digital Spy

 

It sets out what it aims to achieve, and then blows it sky high.

-- Rich Phippen, Sky Movies

 

If someone told you that the negative was found on the shelf of a studio that went bankrupt in 1991, you'd most likely believe them.

-- Dave Calhoun, Time Out

 

The Expendables 2 is imposingly violent, dramatically clunky, and more than a bit cynically conceived -- and, despite all of that, it's also shamelessly entertaining.

-- Tim Grierson,

Screen International

 

The biggest, bloodiest and most wilfully stupid film since the last time Michael Bay stepped behind a camera.

-- Marshall Fine,

Hollywood & Fine

 

Significantly better than the first movie, offering enough back-to-basics action entertainment to make it well worth the price of admission.

-- Edward Douglas, ComingSoon.net

 

The action-lover's dream team doesn't disappoint in The Expendables 2, a sequel that's bigger, bolder and more badass than the original.

-- Jim Vejvoda, IGN Movies

 

A huge, bulging disappointment.

-- Nick De Semlyen, Empire Magazine

 

At its best, The Expendables 2 thrives on the camaraderie that exists between the various action icons, while dropping in cheesy gags that reference their back catalogue.

-- Rob Carnevale, The List

 

It plays out like a series of wet-dream scenarios, performed by a cast of vintage action figures battered and broken from overuse.

-- John Semley, Slant magazine

 

Compiled by Shane Minkin

The Expendables 2

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews

Kildonan Place, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne

14A

102 minutes

Two and a half stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2012 D1

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