Like Golden Girls for the NRA, it’s The Expendables 2, as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and a bevvy of AARP-aged action stars return to the screen to blow stuff up and show off the true power of Just for Men. Going in, I knew — as an immutable, scientific fact — that this was going to be a dumb movie. The question beforehand, however, was, “What kind of dumb?” I’m sorry to report that as much potential in this being an entertainingly stupid display of elderly testosterone-fueled action filmmaking, The Expendables 2 — for the most part — simply takes itself too seriously to be fun.
The self-seriousness of it all probably comes from its biggest stars. Stallone — who co-wrote the film — and Schwarzenegger don’t strike me as the most self-aware or humble actors you’ll find. Yeah, Der Arnold’s whole purpose in the film is to supply awful one-liners and provide some comic relief, but if Jingle All the Way (1996) taught us anything (and didn’t it teach us so many things?), it taught us that he’s no comedian. With his receding hairline and Hawaiian shirt, he’s more like your corny drunk uncle, or maybe Tom Arnold from the Fatherland.
Thankfully, this isn’t the case for everyone involved. Jason Statham’s made a career out of being more charming and likable than the trash he stars in, while Bruce Willis proves why he’s had the healthiest career among all these guys. Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme were never on the Stallone/Schwarzenegger plateau of mega-stars, so they’re given room to do something — sometimes even eccentric — besides be uber-badasses. Van Damme in particular fares nicely, but as the picture’s villain, he’s allowed to chew a little scenery. The premise that he’s apparently the head of an evil cabal of Satanic terrorists (they all have neck tattoos of goats as proof) goes nowhere, making it a particularly sad missed opportunity — if only for the prospect of seeing Chuck Norris sacrificed in some sort of black magick pagan ritual.
The entire film is shot with a murky filter that makes everything look gray and overcast so you know how serious and emotional this film is. In reality, the filter just comes across as shoddy filmmaking. Whole scenes are underlit and seemingly on the verge of being out-of-focus (my working theory is that it makes it harder to tell how wrinkly everyone is). Whole action scenes are chopped to pieces and shot in shadow (these guys aren’t as athletic as they once were). This wouldn’t be a huge deal if this wasn’t, you know, an action movie.
Your best bet for getting maximum enjoyment out of The Expendables 2 — which definitely isn’t going to come from its generic revenge plot — is trying to decide its worst moment. Right now, it’s a dogfight between Jet Li saying, “See you later, alligator” and Stallone shouting, “Rest in pieces!” after shooting some dude. Or maybe it’s the Frank Stallone song that pops up in the middle of the film. But really, in an action movie this off-target, the possibilities are endless. Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout.