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The Expendables 2 (2012)

Frank Masi/Lionsgate

Whereas “The Expendables” somewhat benefited from the novelty of seeing the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis sharing the big screen in a dumb, explosive homage to the type of ’80s action films that made them household names, the same cannot be said for “The Expendables 2,” which is little more than a depressing embarrassment.

An overblown prologue reintroduces our mercenary mob that is up to its usual antics, this time embarking on a death-hungry, munitions-fueled rescue mission in Nepal. Goons are summarily executed in visceral fashion, while ears are aurally assaulted by gunfire and increasingly lame throwaway one-liners along the lines of “your ass is terminated.” If Mr. Stallone and Richard Wenk’s script wasn’t cringe-inducing enough, then the cheap ’80s look and feel beget the question of whether director Simon West chose to co-opt VHS as film stock of choice in order to transport his audience into some sort of meta nightmare.

It severely lacks the charm or the nostalgia that surrounds the era Messrs. West, Stallone et al are attempting to ape, which lends he picture an outdated, irrelevant feel primarily because they miss such a trick by playing things far too straight.

Amidst the nonsense, the premise is decidedly simple: C.I.A. bore Mr. Church (Mr. Willis) contacts Barney Ross (a weathered Mr. Stallone), de facto leader of said Expendables, demanding satisfaction and once again utilizing his crew to undertake what is ostensibly a deniable suicide mission. Thrusting newcomer Maggie (Nan Yu) upon him, he is tasked with locating a downed plane in Albania that holds a priceless cargo, before cardboard-cutout villain Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) can get his hands on it.

As Expendables old and new are dispensed with, Mr. West ramped up the risibility factor by defaulting to tired Eastern bloc clichés while the script that keeps on giving delivers more clangers as Barney Ross demands that his team “track them, find them, kill them” as vengeance comes to the fore. As revenge is accordingly meted out, it’s not long before Chuck Norris pops up in a baffling cameo — accompanied by the chimes of Ennio Morricone, no less — to deliver his self-referential take on the Chuck Norris facts meme before disappearing again. It’s just plain odd.

On the face of it, this is standard action-movie fare; yet where “The Expendables 2” completely misses the mark — aside from a woeful script, poor special effects and dire acting — is tonally. All of these faults could be excused if our muscular friends had hammed it up and played it for laughs, but instead seemingly serious scenes are more comedic than the entirely lame comedy. One particular and presumably improvised scene where the Expendables discuss last meals is frankly bizarre to behold.

And when Dolph Lundgren isn’t extolling the virtues of whale blubber, people are just shooting each other and blowing things up in completely uninspiring fashion. Effectively, there’s nothing to it: it’s humorless, lazy action with a total absence of tension, interspersed here and there with clichéd quips. It’s also devoid of any semblance of plot, finesse or excitement; and it is so boring and forgettable that it’s likely that many will forget what is happening as it actually happens.

In fact, by the time Arnie and Bruce have exchanged their trademark “yippee-ki-yay”/“I’ll be back” lines and Sly and JCVD have played out the most tedious fight in recent memory, one can’t help but agree with archaic dinosaur Mr. Stallone as he muses, “We belong in a museum.”


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