'The Expendables 2' as fun as it is horrible

atomictown.comAugust 19, 2012 

It's a fine line between fun and awful. Fun: seven shots of Jager. Awful: eight shots of Jager.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

If I enjoyed getting punched, this is where I would say "'Nuff said" and leave it at that, but if you were to punch me, that would give me the green light to deliver an Eagle Claw to your throat. And I just had my carpets cleaned. For the good of us both, then, I will go on.

For the most part, the art -- nay, the science! -- of movie criticism is a precise one. Each sentence is subjected to a rigorous battery of unimpeachable tests before it is delivered to the pages of your local newspaper. Every single statement has its blood drawn and tested for defects so you can sleep soundly knowing every opinion is 100 percent truth. Yet there is an area where this science breaks down. Some movies defy analysis. They exist in a border-world between "enjoyable" and "horrific." This world is almost always populated by explosions and explosion-propelled bodies. These are movies that, depending on your mood, you might applaud one day and despise the next. The Expendables 2 is one of these movies.

After their last run-in, Bruce Willis is willing to call things even with Sylvester Stallone and his mercenary gang in exchange for one small favor: a case has gone missing in Eastern Europe. Willis badly needs it back.

Stallone and company reach the case, only to have it stolen by amoral merc leader Jean-Claude Van Damme, who also murders one of Stallone's men. To stop Van Damme from selling plutonium to the highest bidder -- and to have their revenge -- Stallone's group will have to hunt him across the former USSR.

Which of Stallone's crew gets taken down by JCVD? Why, that would be a spoiler! Although you can probably rule out Stallone. And his right-hand man Jason Statham. Terry Crews and Randy Couture aren't significant enough characters to kill off for dramatic effect. Jet Li flees the story so fast that even Li himself couldn't block him.

But you know what, there is this new guy on the team. A young turk Stallone spends an uncomfortable amount of time admiring. A stand-up former Army soldier who, despite just having been introduced, has decided the mercenary life just isn't for him, and that he would rather retire to get home to the love of his life. Oh no. Oh man. I hope that girlfriend of his owns a funeral home, because his name might as well be "Taps McToeTag."

And it plays out exactly as you'd predict. I mean, yes, we're not flocking to The Expendables 2 to see soul-searing drama and twists so fiendish they make Hitchcock look like Bitchcock. We're watching this to see Terry Crews' automatic shotgun turn people into a counterproductive air freshener.

Still, it's really, really predictable. And the rest of the writing is no better. There are a few funny one-liners referencing the mega-star cast's previous work, but most of the dialogue is bizarre to the point of nonsense. Sometimes, the cast barely seems able to get out the words. Then again, perhaps this is all a "Sly" commentary on the '80s action blockbusters The Expendables 2 is aping!

Director Simon West has done some good-to-great work in the past (Con Air!), but has very little to work with here besides loving shots of aged biceps and hardscrabble Bulgarian locations. There is lots of action in The Expendables 2. It's a movie that passes quickly. And Van Damme is pretty great in a role that really should have been larger. It's fun, don't get me wrong, but so is a Mason jar full of Jager. Enjoy it, but it's still pretty awful.

Grade: D+

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and elsewhere.

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