By Shane M. Dallmann
I’ve always liked Sylvester Stallone. No problem admitting it. I was old enough to see ROCKY III and IV on my own on the big screen (no problema–I saw the first two on HBO). I saw most of his 80’s movies (yeah, including the ones in which he became a parody of himself with COBRA and OVER THE TOP, et al, but I still loved TANGO & CASH, and I was genuinely blown away by NIGHT HAWKS and will have it out with anyone who wasn’t), and I even saw STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT! on cable… sure, it’s a joke, but I’ve seen FAR worse movies. I was genuinely impressed with the way he reclaimed his two most famous characters in their twilight with the last ROCKY and RAMBO films. Hey, case closed. The guy has more than earned my respect.
I was a Jason Statham fan starting with THE TRANSPORTER and both CRANK films are amongst my favorites. Yeah, I know he’s done bad films, too. WAR, for instance, made absolute hash out of what should have been his ultimate showdown with Jet Li. But even TRANSPORTER 3 had him on a child’s bicycle, relentlessly staying within striking distance of the vital automobile. So ludicrous, but so much fun–and something I hadn’t seen anywhere else.
Jet Li–no problem. WAR notwithstanding.
Dolph Lundgren I basically only knew from ROCKY IV and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. He certainly did his job.
Sorry, folks–I never did see RED SCORPION. I enjoyed the martial arts/action movies of Chuck Norris for a long time, but I essentially bowed out when he turned to “bang-bang” movies like INVASION U.S.A. and MISSING IN ACTION. I did, indeed, go to see HERO AND THE TERROR on the big screen, but that was only because it was on a double-bill with THE BLOB (at that time, I had yet to personally befriend the late, great Steve James).
And Ah-nuld? I’ve quite enjoyed him in almost every film of his I’ve seen. Sure, he became a comedian’s mainstay, but that’s only because he burned his persona into the nationwide consciousness (cf: William Shatner): you can joke about him all you like, but he’s there because he earned it!
I genuinely like seeing all of the above–I’ll at least give them a chance in whatever they have to offer, and I’ll accept such buddies of theirs as Terry Crews and Randy Couture (who, of course, had to become an invisible scorpion so the viewers would somehow believe that a former Power Ranger could best him in SK2). But I’ve never been overly enthused about the “super-team” sort of movie. Hey, I wouldn’t even have gotten into THE AVENGERS had it not been built up with individual vehicles featuring all of the principals, okay?
So with that in mind, it shouldn’t surprise you that I skipped THE EXPENDABLES on the big screen, even though Jason Statham (my personal favorite of today’s action heroes) was in it. The “mercenaries vs. ruthless South American dictator” plot didn’t appeal to me, plain and simple. And yet… I caught up with it. Mainly because my 13-year-old son (despite his age, I’m fully aware that he can see whatever he wants pretty much whenever he wants) couldn’t get enough of the original and essentially DEMANDED that his parents see the sequel with him.
So I warmed up with the original. It was “okay” in my book. The plot was par for the course, but Stallone and Statham worked well together, Eric Roberts made for a decent villain, and the mano-a-mano showdown between Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li was actually pretty darn good. (Oh, and I can see why the WWE didn’t get behind this movie in a big way, as it allowed the UFC guy to demolish “their” guy).
So–it’s the next morning, and it’s time for THE EXPENDABLES 2. We’ve got Simon West as a director. Well, he’s certainly familiar with remakes and rehashes, having given us both the godawful WHEN A STRANGER CALLS rehash and the fairly-decent MECHANIC remake (Statham, the closest thing we have to a new Charles Bronson) in the past.
Why didn’t they just call this HOT SHOTS 3 and admit it was a joke the whole time? It would have helped. It REALLY would have helped.
There’s a terrific pre-title sequence, no two ways about it. And shortly after that, Jet Li announces that he’s stepping out of the movie. Big mistake, even though it opens the door for Nan Yu to step in as the redoubtable Maggie on the instructions of “Mr. Church” (Bruce Willis) and for her to tease at a possible romantic relationship with the Stallone character.
The Expendables have a newbie aboard–a fresh face by the name of Billy The Kid (Liam Hemsworth, brother of THOR). He admits that this life isn’t what he was hoping for, and so (with all possible respect), he’s going to step down and spend the rest of his life with his loving girlfriend). But he’d like to finish out the month with Stallone’s team, if that’s okay? Just one more mission?
On the way to said Albanian mission (oh, does it really matter?), he tells the harrowing story of the Army experience that convinced him that this wasn’t the life for him (when he got back to the base, someone had even shot his dog… I so wish I were making this up).
Oh, for eff’s sake, what do you THINK is going to happen to Billy the Kid?
JCVD himself has a fine time as the villain (honestly named “Vilain”–bet Stallone regrets not naming himself “Heroux” in the first place). Just about the only thing he doesn’t get to do is punch a little old lady in the face. Yes. It’s that kind of film.
Chuck Norris is introduced to a musical riff associated with Clint Eastwood. Twice. And Stallone obligingly sets him up to deliver the punchline to one of those “Chuck Norris is so tough…” jokes that we’ve all heard hundreds of times already (it’s the one about the snake). His participation is a crock.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis bag on each other’s catch-phrases. We get variations on “I’ll be back” at least twice, while Arnold smirks a “Yippee-ki-yay” at Bruce. I got the feeling that I was falling asleep and that the cast was shaking my by the shoulder yelling “GET IT? GET IT?” from beginning to end.
Yeah, I get it. I get that I should have been at KILLER JOE or PARANORMAN instead. Oh, okay, the final Stallone/Van Damme showdown was pretty good, and the movie itself was a notch above UNIVERSAL SOLDIER in my book.
If you want a non-stop “bang-bang” movie with a semi-appealing cast, have at it. Otherwise, I think you just might have something better to do than to see THE EXPENDABLES 2.