The Expendables 2, like the unnumbered original, not only recycles a cadre of once-iconic coots – Arnie S., Sly Stallone, Bruce Willis among them – but kindly reissues an invitation to play that most entertaining and competitive of Hollywood sports: Who’s got the best facelift? The slickest dye job? The buffest Botox?
Along the way, said coots, augmented by Chuck Norris along with relative youngsters like Jason Statham, defy their years with some vintage butt-kicking, all shot without recourse to any newfangled CGI.
Of course, the result is forgettable, but at least it’s efficiently and breezily forgettable. What’s more, there are laughs too and here’s the best part – one or two of them are actually intentional.
First frame: Nepal. Olive-skinned baddies are torturing hooded figure. Coots to the rescue. Stuff blows up. Rescue effected, hood lifted, escape made – on armoured trucks slicing through the jungle, on speed boats skimming over water, on an aged plane propelling through the air. Being a coot myself, I’m exhausted. Then the opening credits roll.
So it’s back to the U.S. of A., in a bar for a bit of banter, until Willis pops up to give the coots their next assignment. They’re joined by Maggie (Yu Nan), ’cause she’s “combat proficient” and pretty, not to mention half anyone else’s age. Oddly undeterred by that chronological chasm, Maggie bats her eyes at Sly, who pretends not to notice (or is too myopic to see, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt). Then they all head off to Albania to meet Jean-Claude Van Damme’s ultra-cool villain, a badass in dark glasses.
Villain gets down to homicidal biz by killing a raw innocent, which, for reasons unknown, prompts Sly to wax philosophic on the fate of once-iconic coots in our fickle culture: “Why is it the ones who deserve to die keep on living? What’s the message in that?” Oops, sorry, maybe he was talking about the villain. Anyway, in a deep mine left over from the Cold War, there’s a vast stash of “weapons-grade plutonium” to be protected from nefarious hands. Alas, that blabbermouth Sly is at it again: “We keep it light until it’s time to get dark, and then we get pitch black.” Talk about your spoiler alerts – so much for the rest of the plot.
To his credit, director Simon West (in a rare concession to Father Time, Stallone has eschewed double-duty behind the camera in this outing) negotiates the transitions from light to pitch black with competence, if not flair. And you gotta love it when Chuck shows his lifted face. Bystander: “I hear you got bitten by a king cobra.” Chuck: “Yes, but after five days of agonizing pain, the cobra died.” In fact, all the coots seem comfortable in their surgically tightened skin – to a grizzled man, they’re savvy screen veterans and surprisingly non-pathetic. And no one can deny that the golden oldies score harmonizes perfectly with the golden oldies.
The exception, I’m sad to report, is Arnie, who seems pale and distracted, no doubt still pining for the bloodier action of politics, perhaps looking out at that Romney fellow and thinking, “There but for a birth certificate go I.”