August 17, 2012



THE EXPENDABLES 2:  Watch It At Home – Grumpy Old Mercenaries

The first reel of THE EXPENDABLES 2 is just about all the numbskull fun you could ever wish for.  Our intrepid team of Barney (Sylvester Stallone), Christmas (Jason Statham), Yang (Jet Li), Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), and Toll Road (Randy Couture), along with the kid, Billy (Liam Hemsworth) have gone into Nepal to rescue a Chinese businessman we’ve never heard of before and will never hear of again, along with a hooded captive who turns out to be the former Governor of the great state of California.  There’s a Terminator gag, a quip about “big weapons,” an assault on an impregnable torture chamber with armored personnel carriers, a helicopter blown up in mid-air when a motorcycle is aimed straight at its windshield, a chase with attack boats and jet skis, and the splattered blood of many extras.  If you like movies that blow up real good, it’s bliss.

It’s also not something the movie can sustain, and in fact Expendables 2 only reaches that level of action movie nirvana again briefly toward the end, when Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Chuck Norris all share the screen (Stallone is oddly absent for most of the sequence) to trade catch-phrases from their hit movies and enjoy a couple of first-rate visual jokes involving a smart car and an airport X-ray machine.   The rest is lower-grade B-movie stuff, fast and furious but not spectacular.

Does it really matter what the plot is?  Church (Willis) hires the group to find a map that shows the location of that old stalwart, stolen Russian plutonium.  He also forces them to take along, of all things, a girl, albeit in Maggie (Nan Yu) one who can kick and shoot with the rest of them.  (She’s apparently there to compensate the Asian market for Jet Li, who disappears from the movie after the opening sequence.)  A gang of baddies headed by the villain Vilain–it’s not a subtle movie–(Jean Claude Van Damme) kills one of the more expendable Expendables, and makes off for the McGuffin, enslaving Eastern European workers along the way, and only our heroes (and heroine) can stop them.  Cue the tanks, gigantic knives, anti-aircraft guns, automatic weapons, earth-movers and all the other paraphernalia of movie combat.

Expendables 2 couldn’t be dumber, but it’s more fun than The Bourne Legacy.  With the exception of a dullish stretch in the middle where the characters are supposed to be mourning their dead comrade, the movie barely even pretends to take itself seriously, and by the time Chuck Norris shows up as a “lone wolf”–get it?–it’s about two jokes away from being Grumpy Old Mercenaries.  (Norris is only held in very brief close-ups, apparently because–in a very crowded field–he’s had the worst plastic surgery in the cast.)

You couldn’t really call what Stallone, Willis, Schwarzenegger and Norris do here “acting,” but they have a very canny sense of how to poke fun at their age and mannerisms while still showing off their charisma and their action chops.  The difference between that quartet and Liam Hemsworth is the difference between one generation of action star and another.  Director Simon West (taking over from Stallone, who directed the first one himself), whose filmography includes Con Air and Tomb Raider, knows in a project like this, all that matters is making the explosions big and keeping things rolling along, and he does both.  The script, credited to Richard Wenk and Stallone, is basically a coat hanger for the action sequences.

Even among senior citizen action franchises, The Expendables is considerably less clever and engaging than Red (which also features the busy Willis).  Expendables 2, like its predecessor, is about as basic as moviemaking gets.  But while its red meat isn’t something to be eaten at every meal–it’s bad for you in more ways than one–once every couple of years, it can feel good to indulge.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."