Thursday, August 23, 2012

REVIEW: The Expendables 2 (2012-U.S.A.)

Lionsgate.  D: Simon West.  An improvement on the first installment, THE EXPENDABLES 2 is a fun, lightweight, big-screen action/adventure that re-unites Sylvester Stallone with his fellow 80's-present action icons.  New to the mix are Cannon Films' action gods Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme while Jet Li is reduced to a cameo this time out.

After an impressive action-packed pre-credit sequence featuring a surprise rescue, Church (Bruce Willis) makes an unwelcome visit and demands a 'favor'  from Ross (Stallone).  This time Ross' team (Jason Statham, Dolph Lungren, UFC's Randy Couture, footballer Terry Crews and Liam Wemsworth)  must reluctantly take a woman along, (Nan Yu of SPEED RACER), setting of a chain reaction of silly sexist gags, on a mission to stop a plutonium deal that will empower terrorists.  The mission turns tragic when soon-to-be married pretty boy Hemsworth (HUNGER GAMES) is taken hostage and tragically snuffed out by the greasy villain, Vilain (Van Damme), a ruthless trader in plutonium.  For Stallone and his steroid-fueled team, the mission becomes personal and revenge is the flimsy excuse to unleash industrial-strength mega-quantities of  CG blood,  mayhem and mass destruction.  The near apocalyptic climax is spear-headed by the trio of Stallone, Willis and ex-governator Arnold Schwarzenegger wildly trading off firepower, inside jokes and insults .

There is a nice a balance between big-scale stunts and explosions and nicely choreographed hand-to-hand combat.  The standout fight scene features Statham (THE TRANSPORTER and CRANK series) taking on a slew of  thugs in a church.  Li also has a nice but brief fight in a kitchen using pots and pans!

The satisfying finale is a mano-a-mano death duel between Sly and Van Damme, although die-hard action fans would have paid handsomely to see Jet and Jean-Claude go at it.  Scott Adkins, a veteran of Hollywood and Hong Kong action films (ACCIDENTAL SPY, BLACK MASK 2, THE MEDALLION) makes a suitably sinister henchman for Van Damme and gets to shine in a few sequences.  Chuck Norris makes at least two cameos and provides comic relief without getting physical and exerting himself.

Director Simon West (THE MECHANIC, CON AIR) does a competent, precise job at keeping things loud and brisk so there is little time to dwell on the spare DIRTY DOZEN inspired script.  Shot on film on mostly Bulgarian locations, the production has a haphazard visual style with lots of digital tampering such as pixilated blow ups and zoom ins.

Between Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Norris and Van Damme, it looks like a sizeable chunk of the film's production budget went to expensive Cuban cigars and oil drums of hair dye (excluding Willis, of course)!

On a side note, Jackie Chan recently expressed a desire to join the team but was unavailable this time due to his commitment to his own epic CHINESE ZODIAC due out late this year.  Let's hope he's on board for number 3!
VC co-editor with JCVD at the Cannes Film Festival in the mid-90s.  He was prepping his next film, THE QUEST (1996).

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