Stallone, Statham, Schwarzenegger, Willis, JCVD, Norris… it’s a wonder the expanded Expendables 2 cast can fit their names on the poster, let alone their big faces.
Incoming director Simon West (Con Air) and team have a similar problem: how to cram the endless craggy cameos into something approaching an actual story?
It’s an uphill struggle, and after a promisingly combustible opening – all battering-ram humour and exploding heads – the film heads south faster than an ageing wrestler on a zipwire.
Tasked with recovering a plutonium Macguffin from a made-up Eastern European country, Sylvester Stallone’s band of merry mercs (including new recruits Liam Hemsworth and Nan Yu) fall foul of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s villain, imaginatively named Jean Vilain, and vow revenge.
What follows is a plod through familiar action-movie locations (an abandoned mine, an abandoned village, an abandoned army base) in search of what’s really missing: the action.
Jet Li bails out disappointingly early (to the quip: “Now that’s what I call Chinese takeout!”), Chuck Norris raises an indulgent smile, rather than the tempo, while a sour Stallone shoulders some of the worst dialogue (he co-scripted) of his career.
“That’s how we deal with death. We keep it light, until it’s time to go dark. Then we go pitch black. You understand?” he says to Yu, who clearly doesn’t.
The original had its flaws – like the entire second act – but the hits looked like they hurt and the cast looked like they were having fun.
Here they’re merely poking it, with creaky lines preceding even creakier fight sequences, and the characters talking as if they know they’re in a terrible movie.
“You’ve been back enough!” Bruce chides Arnie, who responds with an equally weary in-joke.
An early sequence shows Stallone’s seaplane groaning with excess baggage before it eventually takes off. If only the film were as successful.
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“Sometimes it’s fun to run with the pack,” counsels self-confessed lone wolf Chuck Norris. For the most part, you’d be well advised to choose the opposite direction.