The ’80s ride again! (again): “The Expendables 2”

August 22, 2012

So, summer has ended with a throwback to a simpler time. A time when women wore their hair big, and their shoulder pads bigger. When men didn’t believe in sensitivity or child-rearing, because they were too busy doing lines of coke and destroying small companies on Wall Street. When our country’s enemy was a monolithic power bloc, that we could make war against for five decades without ever, you know, actually fighting. It was time when the cinema landscape was dominated by immense, steroid-driven beasts that stalked the countryside and struck fear into their enemies’ with their war cries of “Aaaeeeooouw!” and “Ahgagagaggoggle!” It was, in short, the 1980s. Yes, the ’80s are back in The Expendables 2. Alas, not the best of ‘80s—Lambourghinis, and knit ties, and trashy women—but the action cinema of the 1980s, and that’s pretty good too.

If you want to enjoy The Expendables 2, you have to set you expectations accordingly. And what that means, basically, is that you have to treat this movie not as a thriller or even an action flick,  but as a very straight-faced parody. As a matter of fact, the case could be made that much of the movie is basically a massive practical joke at Sylvester Stallone’s expense. Because damned if in this one, like the first Expendables, he isn’t taking this movie as seriously as a heart-attack.

Next fall the Oscars are going to fall upon it like a torrential downpour…

But first, the movie. Okay, we got The Expendables—a mercenary team consisting of Stallone, Jason Statham,  Jet Li, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren,  Liam Hemsworth, and Terry Crews. As the movie opens, they’re rescuing some dude and stumble across a captured Arnold Schwarzenegger. They’re successful in rescuing all parties involved, and in the process wipe out, um, pretty much the entire population of whatever country they’re in.

So, when they get home, they get a little quality down time to quaff beers and trade guy-talk. And not guy-talk like, “Hey, what’s a good pre-school where I can enlist my little Cassidy?” but more like, “Hey, when you’re stabbing a dude in the head do you go through the eye-socket or the temple? Huh, me too.” Also Charisma Carpenter makes an appearance so Sly can remind Statham that she cheated on him in the last movie, and so we can be reminded that she’s still really hot.

42 looks good on her.

But then, Sly gets a cryptic visit from Bruce Willis, who is some sort of super spook for the CIA or something. Bruce basically bullies Sly into taking an assignment to recover the contents of a safe that went down in a plane crash in East Europe (because if anyone can bully Sylvester Stallone it’s Bruce Willis, amiritekthx). Sly doesn’t like this, and he likes the next bit even less: he has to take along a Chinese safe-cracker—and guess what? She’s a real-live girl! Yep, with boobs and everything. She’s played by Yu Nan, an adorable Beijing actress whose spoken English manages to be more intelligible than most of the cast’s.

“Um, can anyone understand him? Oh good, it’s not just me.”

So, they get to the crash site and extract the contents of the safe, which turns out to be a map to a cache of several tons of plutonium. Good job, right? Good guys win, and everything. Nope. As they’re about to leave they’re ambushed by a local mercenary warlord named (giggle) Vilain. He’s played by Jean Claude Van-Damme, because, let’s face it there was always something douchey about JCVD, right? Well, it’s not enough that Vilain steals the map, but he’s also got to slaughter one of the Expendables in front of the rest of the team. Think they’re gonna stand for that? Hell no. Kill an Expendable and it is on like Donkey Kong (also an ‘80s reference).

If they put him in Expendables 3, I will literally have an orgasm.

So without spoiling the rest, The Expendables go after Vilain and slaughter, well, just about everybody. No, seriously, by the time the closing credits roll, the world’s population has dropped by a couple points.

So, yeah, a near perfect simulacrum of an ‘80s action movie—the kind in which success was measured by the number of spent rounds and detonated squibs. But director Simon West goes us one better and includes a couple of the same clunky, vaguely-ludicrous scenes those movies used to shoehorn in as a grasp for depth or character-development (think the scene in Rambo: First Blood Part 2 in which Stallone explains to Julia Nickson why he’s expendable and he likens it to not being invited to a party). And that’s where this movie soars as a colossal joke on Stallone. Because just as Stallone’s leaden direction and self-seriousness nearly sunk the first movie, he reaches again for high drama.

What we get our deliberately campy scenes that Stallone plays completely straight. For example, in the burial scene for their lost man, damned if Stallone doesn’t seem to be reaching for that Best Actor nomination that’s always been just out of his reach. Meanwhile, I like to imagine the rest of the cast is sitting there and Statham says to West, “Hey Simon, better shoot Sly in tight close-up. You know, so you can’t see any of us tearing up here…(giggle).” And Stallone was probably like, “Aaaooooweyah. Aeyood ieea, cuz ees ess aeike ae eenda Saaeing Priaeate Ryan.” (TRANSLATION: “Good idea, because this is like the end of Saving Private Ryan.”)

So, what else we got:

* Jet Li pops smoke in the first act. He is missed.

* They work in Dolph’s character’s history, which is…basically, the same as Dolph Lundrgren’s. He’s a Rhodes Scholar who went to MIT before he got into the merc game (I don’t think Dolph actually did that last bit).

* Sad to say, but, yes some of these guys are getting to old for this. Schwarzenegger, in particular, seems out of practice at this game.

* The inside jokes get a bit overdone by the end. “Cover me. I’ll be back.” “Yippeekayay.” “I hear you’re kind of a lone wolf,” (that last one is directed at Chuck Norris.

* Speaking of, he shows up for what’s basically an extended cameo and hopes we don’t recall that he’s about 72 now.

* Stallone has an ick-inducing scene with Yu, wherein he explains why they could never be an item. In true ‘80s fashion, the reason is because he can’t let himself get close to anyone anymore (and not because, well, he no longer resembles anything human any longer).

* This movie’s solution to the problem of its sprawling cast? Throw in more dudes for them to kill. Seriously, they respawn like the monster in a chapter of Doom.

So, that’s The Expendables 2. Nostalgia and good faith take it a long way. Let’s hope they quit while they’re ahead.

One comment

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