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Aging Ungracefully, But Still Kicking (And Shooting)
The monosyllables fly fast and furious in The Expendables 2. It's the joints that are a little creaky, but what would you expect from this sequel to the 2010 blockbuster in which a cadre of aged action stars, led by Sylvester Stallone, gathered to fire guns, blow things up and beat the living daylights out of assorted baddies?
The Expendables 2 brings back essentially the same cast, with a few additions, and features approximately the same quota of explosions and ass-kicking as its predecessor did, give or take a few incidents of flame-throwing and skull-bashing.
Stallone returns as mumbling mercenary Barney Ross, who leads a band of musclebound merry men who'll do anything for a buck: Barney is most commonly found in the company of his sardonic sidekick Lee Christmas (Jason Statham, who somehow emerges from the most ridiculous scenarios with his coolness intact).
Milling around in the background, with not much to do except throw their weight around, are Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews).
Jet Li's Yin Yang — one of the most appealing characters in the first movie — appears in an early scene and is quickly dispensed with. He's replaced, sort of, by an Asian operative named Maggie (Yu Nan), who seems to exist solely to make moo-moo eyes at rugged he-man Ross, who's having none of that girly stuff. There's also a greenhorn named Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth), but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Most of the action takes place in Bulgaria, where Ross and Co. have been dispatched by shadowy CIA go-between Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) to prevent a heap of weapons-grade plutonium from falling into the wrong hands. This requires crash-landing a plane that was pretty rickety to begin with, blowing assorted evildoers to kingdom come, and making the acquaintance of a village full of women whose menfolk have been enslaved and put to work in that plutonium mine. Director Simon West (The Mechanic, Con Air) guides the plot about as well as he needs to, given that the body count is what really matters here.
And boy, do those bodies pile up. The Expendables 2 is reasonably cathartic in a fall-down-go-boom way, and if the picture's self-conscious riffing becomes tiresome after a while — there are only so many jokes a bunch of middle-aged sides o' beef can make at their own expense — it's still much wittier than its predecessor.
The dialogue, broken down and remixed, works as a kind of brutalist comic-book haiku: "Better duck!" "Oh, [expletive]!" "I got this!" "Fire!" "Yeah!" "Whoa!"
And how can you resist Jean-Claude Van Damme as a villain named — what else? — Vilain, showing off the star-shaped tattoo on his neck and explaining helpfully that it is the "sign of the goat — the pet of Satan!"
The Expendables 2 stands strong against Satan, his goats and everything they represent. In its worldview, truth, justice and Doan's Pills are really all that matter.