Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Released theatrically in August; now available on all home video platforms
Why I keep watching new films starring Sylvester Stallone I'm not quite sure - God knows few actors have a worse track record over the past 30 years than Sly. A look at his filmography over that period lists roughly 30 features in which he's had the starring role, of which I've seen 25. Of those 25, I can count the number of good films on one hand and still have a finger or two left over (and that's with the generous assessment of 1993's Cliffhanger being considered "good"), with only one of those worthy of "excellent" status in my books. That'd be 1997's Cop Land, where Stallone gave the best performance of his career in a highly refreshing against-type role. The only reasons I can come up with as to why I repeatedly set myself up for such disappointing movie-viewing experiences from a markedly one-dimensional actor is: a) there's likely some sort of ingrained connection to him as one of the first big cinema stars I gravitated towards as a young kid just beginning to become a movie lover and b) I've simply always liked the guy.
Back in my 2010 review of The Expendables, I noted that the film "has the distinct whiff of Stallone trying to launch another franchise". With the unexpected success of it and the inevitable sequel, The Expendables 2 (the original made $274 million worldwide and the follow-up tallied $300 million worldwide), it's only appropriate then, given the militaristic nature of The Expendables films' subject matter, that Stallone's goal of creating another profitable movie series be acknowledged with a "mission accomplished". The sequel one-ups its predecessor's strategy of cramming as many action stars as possible into an 80s throwback action spectacle by expanding the cast even further and pushing the limits of how many actors can appear on a movie poster. Added to the returning mix of Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Jet Li (in a very limited role), Jason Statham, and Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in expanded roles this time around are Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. Newcomers Liam Hemsworth and Chinese actress Yu Nan also contribute supporting roles and Nan turns out to be a solid addition, adding at least a little counterbalance to the testosterone surplus surrounding her. Sadly, Steven Seagal still apparently has better things to do.
Stallone, who once again co-wrote the (once again) thin screenplay hands off the directing role he assumed on The Expendables to Simon West, no stranger to unsubtle moviemaking with credits such as The Mechanic and the crème de la crème of turn-your-brain-off movies, Con Air, on his resumé. The Expendables 2 hits the ground running with a 12 minute long opening action sequence that finds Stallone's Barney Ross character and the rest of The Expendables breaking into a Nepalese prison to rescue some hostages, with subsequent plot lines involving the crew exacting revenge for the death of a comrade, and having to save the world from harm by getting their hands on both some plutonium and some high tech computer technology also playing out. The story, which is peppered with numerous eye-rolling "nick of time saves" moments, is purely incidental, of course. The main focus is having the ensemble mowing down their opposition with extreme prejudice, as often as possible, with as many bad one-liners as possible. It's probably redundant to say anything in a film like this is too over-the-top, but the overuse of those punny one-liners (like "rest in pieces" being proclaimed by Ross before he obliterates an enemy) deflates the initial "stupid fun" pleasure they deliver in the film's earlier parts. The corny, self-referencing lines also wear thin quickly, too, as we get an overdose of self-deprecating quips about the advanced ages of many of the movie's participants (I was amazed no one used an "I'm gettin' too old for this shit" line), multiple Terminator-related jokes from Arnie's character, "lone wolf" and Rambo references to Norris' and Stallone's characters, a "yippee ki yay" joke from Willis' character, and some backstory that reveals Lundgren's character is a brain (the actor actually has a degree in chemical engineering, if you can believe it). At first, I wasn't completely sure if all of the high camp that The Expendables 2 dispatches was completely tongue-in-cheek or just the general meatheaded nature of a killfest movie like this one. By the time I got to a little over 30 minutes into the film, I ended up going with the first theory. That was the point where Van Damme shows up, breaks out a single martial arts move that is downright hilarious for all the wrong reasons, and we find out that his Eurotrash villain character is named...Jean Vilain. Awesome.
As I was finishing up this review, it occurred to me that the takeaway impression I had after watching the aging action figures in The Expendables movies paralleled one of the observations I just wrote about in my last review for KISS' latest album - there comes a point where what both aging parties are still hanging on trying to do just seems rather undignified (even by the lower dignity standards of action stars and face-painting musicians) and it can frequently be painful to watch or listen to. The Expendables 2 isn't a complete waste of time, mind you. It still provides some decent entertainment in places and moderately exceeded my rock bottom expectations established by The Expendables. Considering the brutal box office returns this past weekend for Stallone's newest film, Bullet To The Head, plus the similarly anemic theatrical performance of Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand a couple of weeks ago, expect plenty more long-in-the-tooth action all-star team nostalgia trips under The Expendables banner in the foreseeable future.