This title card will Mess. You. Up.
Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his gang of soldiers-for-hire return (with some newbies): Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth). (I learned the full names via IMDB and I have to say they are pretty much perfect.) After a mission in Asia, the group gets a visit from Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), who asks that they do a job for him as payback for the mess they caused at the end of the last movie (explosions and assorted killing in a fictional Latin American country). This takes most of the gang to Albania, of all places, to find a secret something hidden in a safe in a downed plane. Along for the mission is Maggie (Yu Nan), an expert in safe-cracking. Once on the ground, however, the gang learns that nefarious characters are already on the hunt for the safe and its contents: They are met by bad guy, I kid you not, Jean Vilian (one Mr. Jean-Claude Van Damme; though, as great as his character’s name is, I didn’t find it out until I checked later because while watching the movie you just think “hey, Jean-Claude Van Damme is the bad guy and Bruce Willis works for the CIA”).
Doing California proud, former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also shows up, as does Chuck Norris playing a character called “Booker” but whom you will think of as “Chuck Norris, Texas Ranger,” thanks to the cheesy Western music that accompanies his appearance onscreen.
If a fist hitting a guy’s face could then explode, that would perfectly encapsulate the spirit of this movie. The Expendables 2 is probably not as “good” as the first movie but it is definitely more, well, more. This is a greatest hits of hits, a Traveling Wilburys of action heroes doing a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame encore of their best kicks to the face. Yes, there is some, what shall we call it, acting? OK, sure, “acting” from Stallone, a man so thoroughly committed to the never-say-die ethos that he continues to attempt to emote even in a movie where everybody else is perfectly happy just to make some in-joke (“I’m back,” says Schwarzenegger, like, twice I think) and then mug for the inevitable extreme close-up. Stallone, who has a screenplay credit here but didn’t direct this one, always is the guy who gives just a bit more earnestness to his hokey movies than you’d expect. Here, it keeps the affair from being pure hamminess. He is the peppery note of acid to keep the cheese from choking you to death in this big plate of muscle-bound, explosion-filled nachos. B-
Rated R for strong violence, language and brief sexuality and because it’s funnier if you’re olde enough to have seen at least a few Rockys, a Die Hard or two and one Rambo. Directed by Simon West with a screenplay by Richard Wenk and Sylvester Stallone and a story by Ken Kaufman & David Agosto and Richard Wenk, The Expendables 2 is an hour and 43 minutes long and is distributed by Lionsgate.