The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 24, 2012

Benji Tunnell: ‘Expendables 2’ an island of misfit action stars

JOPLIN, Mo. — I tried to prepare myself for “The Expendables” this time. I wasn’t ready two years ago, and I paid the price.

This time around, I decided that I would have to pummel my brain into submission, to neutralize all intelligent reasoning and to cut that already frayed tether to reality. So, before embarking for the theater, I first listened to the entirety of the Nickelback catalogue, followed up by a marathon viewing of “Jersey Shore” and chased with selected readings from “50 Shades of Grey.”

Only after this pop culture lobotomy could I be certain that I was ready for the trail that awaited me. After wiping the drool from my chin, I made my way to see “The Expendables 2.”

This time around, Sylvester Stallone has expanded his crew of has-been and washed up former action stars, trying to add in cast what the movie lacks in plot. Returning are Stallone as Barney Ross, Jason Statham as Lee Christmas, Jet Li as Yin Yang, Dolph Lundgren as Gunner Jensen, Terry Crewes as Hale Ceasar and Randy Couture as Toll Road.

Also returning, with expanded roles this time, are Bruce Willis as Church and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Trench. Joining them in this outing of the movie stars time forgot are Chuck Norris as Booker, Jean-Claude Van Damme (looking rather serpentine) as Vilain, Liam Hemsworth as Bill the Kid and Nan Yu as Maggie.

If, in reading both that collection of actors as well as the pun-tastic character names, you’re still excited, then this is probably the movie for you.

Barney and his crew are recruited by Church to recover a hard drive that contains the location of a mine where cold war stashes of plutonium are being stored. Tagging along is age-inappropriate love interest for Barney in Maggie, a safe cracker tasked with opening an absurdly complicated safe that changes combinations every 120 seconds.

When the crew is ambushed by Vilain and his group and one of the team members is killed, Barney drags the gang along in a ludicrous plot for revenge.

There are so many things wrong with this film that it is hard to decide where to start, but I believe that I’ll start with the maddeningly absurd plot. The entire premise of this mission is the hard drive with the map to the mine, yet when Vilain steals the drive, he immediately returns it to the mine, where his crew of slave laborers is already extracting the plutonium, thus entirely negating the need for the drive in the first place.

Vilain has enslaved the males of the local populace to do his grunt work, but when they begin to break down because of fatigue, he sends his men out to capture the women and children as well, rather than using the small army of several hundred men to actually do the work in a faster and more efficient manner.

Then we see Barney and his gang effortlessly track down the bad guys with no clues and no direction. When the Expendables get pinned down in an abandoned Russian town by forces who would have no idea that they were there, they are rescued by Chuck Norris, playing off of the reputation that the Internet has created for him over the past several years, single handedly defeating not only the enemy soldiers but their tank as well.

In this moment, we get to hear Norris deliver a painfully stilted and unfunny Chuck Norris joke, allowing for the full meta-ness of the film to take effect.

Once again, as in the first, the violence is over the top, computer generated blood flying on every shot. What the film lacks in actual development it tries to make up for in explosions, bullets and grunting. Almost every actor is hulking in mass, and I assume that the cost of HGH must have accounted for a large part of the overall budget.

I had someone tell me that as long as stuff was blowed up good and they had cheesy one-liners, he would like the movie. Yet even that doesn’t do it.

The writers’ idea of cleverness (Stallone included) was to take signature lines from each actor and put them in the mouths of some of the others. Those that don’t have signature lines have to make do with awful dialogue.

Everything about the movie is cartoonish, from the plot to the violence to the chemically inflated bodies of the actors. Age, plastic surgery and HGH have allowed Stallone to create a caricature of his former self, and judging by the looks of the rest of the cast, he isn’t alone.  

“The Expendables 2” is a sad excuse for Stallone and many mostly irrelevant actors to attempt to recapture long lost fame. It is the island of misfit action stars, where the old and bulky go to die.

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