Review – Never Before Has A Cast Like This Been Assembled … Oh, Yeah, They Have… (The Expendables 2 et al.)

Remember when you were a kid and you got a video camera for a gift and made a movie with all your friends about zombies or a Western or a war (it didn’t really matter) and you threw a girl in there because she was your kid sister and your mom told ya to and it had no plot and no story but it didn’t matter because it was fun and cool and stupid and it was total blast to make? Well, that’s sorta the kind of movie that Sly Stallone has done (again) with “The Expendables 2.”

Having a “super-cast” of friends in your playground sandbox to film must’ve been a hoot, especially with Jason Statham, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crewes, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Randy Couture, and newbie’s Liam Hemsworth & Yu Nan. With a cast like that, you can’t go wrong. Well, actually, you can.

The story and plot, which could have been written on a napkin in a bar (and probably was,) has team leader Barney Ross (Stallone) coming home with his rag-tag team (less Jet Li–who leaves after the first 15 minutes of the film–a real shame too!) after a harrowing, but successful rescue of a rival (Ahhnold–who’s back in the film game after his governorship and paternity woes) and a kidnapped businessman in China.

But Barney’s troubles have just begun: an old nemesis is back to taunt him. Nasty Mr. Church (Willis) blackmails Barney into retrieving a secret computer disk in Albania that contains the whereabouts of hidden Russian plutonium. Yikes! The other hitch is Barney must play babysitter to a techie and kick-ass fighter named Maggie (Nan.)

Faster than you can say “assemble the team,” the gang is flying down to Albania to get the goods, but runs afoul of super-villain Jean Vilain (I kid you not–THAT’S his name!) played by Van Damme. His band of bad guys, called the Sang, murder young Billy (Hemsworth,) the good-guy’s sniper kid and all Hell breaks loose after that. “What do you do now?” asks Statham. Stallone turns, scowls, and says, “Track ’em, find ’em, kill ’em!”

Annnnnnnd the body count begins again with a hailstorm of bullets/blood/body parts flying in all directions. During some down time in an obscure Albanian town that resembles downtown New York (don’t ask,) the gang are rescued from an ambush by ace killer Booker, the “Lone Wolf” (Norris.) Cute.

The gang then invade the hellhole where the plutonium was, but they’re too late! It’s gone and on its way to the airport where the final “shoot-out of shoot-outs” happens with everyone spouting each other’s movie catch-phrases. In the end, the good guys win, the bad guys get killed….badly, and you know that part 3 is just around the corner.

Absolutely stupid, ridiculous, preposterous, and a silly road runner cartoon with a HUGE body count that defies explanation – a movie with SO much deus ex machina (look it up) that it became a joke unto itself. The plot holes are so numerous that after a while I lost count. Scenes simply jumped from A to B to C without any set-up or reason and I couldn’t tell whether it was bad editing or bad storytelling.

Yet, throughout the exploitative mayhem, dumb dialog, and terrible scene changes, there is an obvious playfulness in the cast that is undeniable. It’s clear that these guys were having fun shooting big-ass guns, having fun with each other, and generally not taking this movie seriously. Director Simon West (who also directed one of my favorite films, “Con Air”,) really knows his stuff as far as filming crazy, shoot ’em up films. He certainly doesn’t disappoint here either!

AND WHILE WE’RE AT IT…

“The Expendables 2” has what I like to call a “super cast”, a dream-team, if you will, of an ensembles of actors that show up in a movie that you may never see again. Let’s take a look at some of those from the past –

THE OUTSIDERS (1983)
Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swazye, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane, Matt Dillon, and Leif Garrett. What a cast! Based on the book by S.E. Hinton of racial tensions in the 1960’s Oklahoma between the “soc’s” and the “greasers” classes, this beautifully filmed Francis Ford Coppola movie is as near perfection as you can get. Required watching for high schoolers.

THE COCKEYED COWBOYS OF CALICO COUNTY (1970)
Jim Backus, Dan Blocker, Nanette Fabray, Mickey Rooney, Jack Elam, Noah Berry, Jr., Wally Cox, Stubby Kaye, Jack Cassidy, Henry Jones, and Iron Eyes Cody. Okay, so you may not be old enough to recognize the names, but this screwball Western comedy is hilarious and made up of a cast of pals and friends from the 70’s. Sadly, this movie is only available on DVD at Ebay or Ioffer.com.

OCEANS 13 (2007)
George Clooney, Bratt Pitt, Matt Damon, Al Pacino, Elliott Gould, Ellen Barkin, Don Cheadle, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, Bernie Mac, Eddie Izzard, David Paymer, and Andy Garcia. My favorite in the series by director Steven Soderbergh and the one with the most fun and heart. I can’t believe that a movie this good was made without any bad language or nudity.

THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1985)
Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, Martin Sheen, David Paymer, Wendy Malick, Richard Dreyfuss, and John Mahoney. Who doesn’t love Aaron Sorkin and Rob Reiner? From their “A Few Good Men” pairing to this gem, you can bank on great film directing with heart and damn fine writing – and a cast to die for!

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1992)
Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris and Jonathan Pryce. Based on the nerve-jangling writing and F-bomb dropping of master playwrite David Mamet, this movie (based on the stage play) has the grand masters of acting assembled in a room as it implodes with tension over stolen real estate “leads.” Desperate salesmen trying to hang on to their jobs and their fragile lives. You won’t fine finer acting anywhere on film.

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982)
Judge Reinhold, Nicholas Cage (billed as Nicholas Coppola), Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ray Walston, Anthony Edwards, Vincent Schiavelli, and Eric Stoltz. A movie written by Cameron Crowe and directed by Amy Heckerling that single-handedly defined a generation in the 80’s. Jeff Spicoli, Mr. Hand, Phoebe Cate’s red bikini coming off at the pool and her perfect breasts, depictions of teen sex and teen pregnancy, and the Sherman Oaks Galleria, where it was filmed, all come together in a film that broke the mold, for all times, of what a teen-angst movie should be.

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