‘The Expendables 2’: Botox boys club

August 14, 2012

A sequel to Sylvester Stallone’s 2010 hail-Mary all-action-star effort to regain relevance at the box office, “The Expendables 2” may be the biggest, bloodiest and most willfully stupid film since the last time Michael Bay stepped behind a camera.

This one is directed by Simon West, someone else who has helped devalue the action flick. But the driving force is obviously Stallone, who wrote and directed the first film, then co-wrote this one. Stallone looks like 10 miles of bad road at this point – or, perhaps, a four-car pile-up of cosmetic surgeries.

His team of mercenaries are the most visible squad around, with no apparent fear of being caught and captured by anyone; they might as well have a Facebook page. (“Like” my latest kill.) They’re first glimpsed springing a Chinese businessman from a Nepalese warlord – because, you know, Nepal is such a threat to China.

They jettison Jet Li after that pre-credits caper, then head home to New Orleans (movie-making tax credits – cha-Ching!), where the crack operative Stallone is surprised in his own lair by government hard-guy Church (Bruce Willis), who forces him to take a new assignment. Geez, it seems awfully easy to get the drop on this guy.

He and his team of tough guys (Jason Statham still in sidekick mode, UCF champ Randy Couture, a golem-like Dolph Lundgren and wise-cracking Terry Crews) have a new young sharpshooter (Liam Hemsworth) in their ranks, though he might as well be wearing a red Star Trek tunic. And they’re babysitting a Church operative, Maggie Chun (Nan Yu), who knows how to retrieve a mysterious package from the safe in a plane that’s crashed in the Balkans.

But once they have that package, they’re met by a group of bad guys led by – wait for it – Jean-Claude Van Damme, who steals the package from them, leaving one of Stallone’s band dead. Now it’s personal.

So Stallone and friends have to track him down to retrieve – well, something about information leading to a former Soviet cache of tons of plutonium, which, if it fell into the wrong hands – oh, you know the rest.

Which is true of the whole movie. The only surprise here is how little actual connective tissue there is, to create even a gauziest appearance of plausibility to the action. And I’m not talking about the heroes’ seeming invulnerability to automatic weapons’ fire or something ludicrous like zip-lining through the jungle with one hand so the other can shoot a machine gun.

No, I’m referring to action that not only doesn’t make sense but doesn’t even seem to care. It’s not just cartoonish – it’s witless as well. An example: At one point, Stallone crashes his vintage airplane into the bad guys’ hideout with his whole crew aboard; moments later, they’re all exactly where they need to be in the villains’ underground mine, locked and loaded and in perfect position to gun down the bad guys. Now there’s a super-power: the ability to ignore simple physics.

Beside Van Damme, Stallone pulls Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger out of mothballs, just so we get the full-range of male-menopause denial. These guys – and I include Stallone, Arnold, Van Damme and Norris in this group – are downright scary-looking, as though they’re runner-ups in lookalike contests to look like themselves. Or perhaps they’re simply trying to elude facial-recognition software.

The writing – by Stallone and Richard Wenk – has Schwarzenegger and Willis exchanging each other’s catch-phrases as a substitute for witty banter. And Norris actually delivers a Chuck Norris joke. It’s supposed to represent self-aware humor. But if these guys even knew what meta meant, the whole enterprise would implode into a cinematic black hole.

I’m obviously preaching to the choir. “The Expendables,” which made only slightly more sense but featured better action, made over $100 million. With Van Damme and Norris on board – and Willis and Schwarzenegger doing cameos instead of walk-ons – this one will probably make even more.

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