(by Dustin Putman
Before its release, 2010's "The Expendables" sounded like a can't-miss proposition, a literally explosive joining-together of some of the greatest, most iconic action stars of the '80s, '90s, and today. The idea of the project was ultimately more fun than the film that came to theaters, tenfold. Squandered by haphazard characterizations, unoriginal stock plotting, and virtually no action to speak of until the overblown finale, the film held no sense of humor about itself and, worse than that, non-existent entertainment value. Box-office-wise, it made a bundle, but the movie, good or bad, was sold on the names above the title alone. In tackling a sequel—one with even more action heavies, like newcomers Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris and Liam Hemsworth, plus Arnold Schwarzenegger in a beefed-up part—team leader Sylvester Stallone (2008's "Rambo") has stepped aside as director in favor of Simon West (2011's "The Mechanic"). Regrettably, as far as can be told, the only thing West has brought to the table is a seven-figure budget set aside solely for dust and fog wrangling. Perhaps to shield the increasingly weathered faces of his seasoned actors, roughly seventy percent of the movie is shot through a thick, queazy layer of haze. In addition to being joyless, "The Expendables 2" has also been hit with the ugly stick. Article continues below
Hot off their latest mission, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his ragtag team of mercenaries are pulled right back in the game when Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) presents them with a new assignment. It should be easy—to travel to Albania and retrieve a briefcase carrying a blueprint of a plutonium mine—but when their newest, youngest, most innocent recruit, Bill (Liam Hemsworth), is killed on the eve of leaving the business, Barney can think of nothing but revenge. The villain, helpfully named Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), isn't exactly quaking in his boots, but he probably should be. There is exactly no chance whatsoever Barney will allow him to escape with his life.
"The Expendables 2" has three times the amount of action as the lame, curiously inert "The Expendables" had, but let's be clear what said action entails. Viewers expecting tautly filmed set-pieces of tension, excitement and ingenuity should look elsewhere. All that director Simon West offers up is punishing, ultra-chaotic pandemonium, a loosely connected conveyer belt of shots involving death, carnage and fiery destruction. Using everything from hummers to jet skis to planes, the bulky, pumped-up figures on the screen (calling them characters would be far too kind) cavort around while machine gunning, stabbing and missile launching anyone who happens to get in their way. When the hard day is done, they hang out and joke around while listening to classic rock, disaffected by the literally countless string of torn-apart bodies they've left in their wake.
The very notion that a stack of pages of a script titled "The Expendables 2" are lying around somewhere in Hollywood is enough to make anyone who has just seen it snicker. Credited to Richard Wenk (2006's "16 Blocks") and Sylvester Stallone, the writing consists almost entirely of murmurs, mumbles, and one-liners interspersed between the chaos unfolding around them. These aren't clever one-liners, either, but the sort that make a person want to put in ear plugs and pretend they didn't hear such groan-worthy malarkey. In one scene, Barney tells his latest blown-to-bits victim, "Rest in pieces." Or how about this exchange between Arnold Schwarzenegger's Trench and Bruce Willis' Mr. Church: "I'll be back," says Trench. "You've been back enough," Mr. Church replies. "I'll be back." "Yippee-kay-ay," Trench retorts. It hurts to even recount it.
Ignorantly unaware of how mean-spirited it is, "The Expendables 2" is set up as a silly popcorn picture where things go boom a lot. That's all fine and well, except the violence is portrayed with such a blood-thirsty relish that it kind of strips the so-called heroes from coming off as, you know, heroic. With no consequences to their actions and no legitimate roles to play—you learn next to nothing about anyone save for Liam Hemsworth's (2012's "The Hunger Games") Bill, who capably outacts all of his elder cast members—the movie is but an empty-souled vessel where legendary performers show up in the same room and then stand around with little of interest to say or do. It is such a waste. From afar, "The Expendables 2" sounds like it should be a blast. Why, then, is the reality about as fun as chewing on a hand grenade?