So I’m loaded down with my usual collection of concession goodies — Real Nathan’s hot dogs, Real Fake Bavarian Pretzels, Lavazza capuccino, chocolate Twists, Goobers, Whoppers, large popcorn with extra fake butter, senior-size Junior Mints, Nachos with extra cheese, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, pieces of pizza, Sno-Caps, and Diet Pepsi — only to be told that I had to leave my backpack in the office. Leave my backpack in the office? What is this, West Korea?
“Since when?” I ask, with all the hurt innocence of a kamikaze pilot.
“Oh, for years, ever since Colorado.”
“For years since Aurora? From last month?”
“It’s been a rule for years. We only started enforcing it since the shootings in Colorado.”
“Great bags of lemon Jello!!” I scream, to the horror of a fellow moviegoer who dropped his Slushie thingee at the sound of my bellow and was now collapsed on the floor crying like a four-year-old. Which he was.
“It’ll be right here on this desk. There’s a camera on it at all times. Or you can take it back to your car.”
Now, as alluded to up top, I’m standing there carrying about $135 worth of confections, as well as my steering wheel, which I always remove and take with me to prevent auto theft. Needless to say, going back to the car was not an attractive option.
So I hand over my backpack and storm off in a huff, which I also have with me at all times.
Finally seated in Auditorium 9, backpack-less, separated by several feet of inflammable cinderblock from my usual movie reading matter, volume 4 of A Short History of Colitis; my Texas Instruments pocket calculator (so I can calculate how many more jobs I must hold down to pay off my car, my credit cards, my mortgage, and the Small business loan I took out when I bought that Small’s franchise); and a back-up box of pretzel M&Ms. Not to mention almost blinded from the lights bouncing off everyone’s cellphones and into my supposedly glare-protective lenses.
Minutes pass before the trailers begin. Of the interminable mix of silliness and garbage, The Man with the Iron Fists, starring Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, looked like fun—a cross between Crouching TIger, Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill, Enter the Dragon, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. There is also a new Stallone flick, I forget the name, directed by Walter Hill (48 Hours), in which Stallone beats people up (as opposed to the other Stallone films, in which he argues with Coptics about the heresy of Nestorianism). And there’s also a new Schwarzenegger epic, in which he plays a western sheriff. What part of west Vienna, I have no idea, but it looked awful, and by that I mean terrible, and by that I mean neither awe-inspiring nor terror-inducing, only seven varieties of stupid.
About two hours later, the real film begins. When we last left our heroes, Barney Ross, played by our star, Sylvester Stallone (who must be a branch off the Red Hook Rosses), and his crew of mercenaries — Jason Statham (his real costar and kinda sidekick); Terry Crewes (who will star in a family-type sitcom this fall); Dolph Lundgren (who is so much taller than most of his costars that half the time his head is out of frame); Jet Li (the alter Lee who is featured for only a brief early set piece in which he dispatches 47 bad guys with a couple of frying pans); and some MMA guy with a cauliflower ear (who I’m sure is a wonderful fellow in real life) — were barely surviving some Latin American adventure at the behest of a rogue CIA VP of marketing (played by Bruce Willis, with all the gusto the role deserved, which is to say none at all).
Now they’re back in action, rescuing a Chinese billionaire who has been kidnapped by Nepalese kidnappers (as opposed to Nepalese chess masters). Who this Chinese billionaire is or why they of all people have been pressed into service to save his sorry behind is left a mystery for the ages. Perhaps he’s the guy who personally floats all that U.S. debt. Or maybe it’s come to the point where “communist billionaire” has been added to the plethora of “types” for such genre films.
Anyhoo, who do they happen to encounter as they’re breaking out our Mandarin friend but the Austrian Oak himself, AHnold. It seems that he, too, was attempting a rescue mission, only he flubbed it and was about to be beaten to death with his own accent until our boys show up and rescue him as a kinda 2-for-1 deal. Now Trench (Arnold) owes Barney (Sly), which explains stuff later on in the show.
Long story short: It seems that Brucie didn’t like the way the last mission went (Barney & Co. made off with $5 million of CIA geetus), so in order to stay out of Gitmo, our aging marauders must retrieve a safe with a box with a code with a map with a recipe for pulled pork that is of some world-salvific value.
Along for the ride is Maggie Chan (played by the formidable Nan Yu), a Chinese kung fu master and computer genius. (No stereotypes there.)
Everything’s going along just fine until they meet up with Jean-Claude Van Damme (and how many young ladies have admitted that to their therapists?), who proceeds to (a) steal what Barney et al. have just stolen and (b) take out one of his men, for whom we have already grown fond, and who was fated to be eliminated from the minute he revealed that “this life wasn’t for him.” (There is one genuinely poignant moment related to this event, when Barney reflects on how one copes with death, especially the death of a young person, which took on much more weight than intended in light of the death of Stallone’s son, Sage, at age 36, shortly before the movie’s premiere.)
In any event, it’s now revenge time. Barney, Paul, George, and Ringo set off to win back that map (or more specifically, what that map points to) and eliminate with extreme goriness Jean-Claude, the Belgian Whip (I don’t know nicknames . . .).
Emerging literally out of nowhere in the middle of one helluva fracas is none other Chuck Norris. The man who will be remembered as inspiring more tough-guy jokes and selling more Total Gyms than any Chinese billionaire strides onto the stage like Gary Cooper in High Noon, as directed by the guys who did Airplane! At least in the case of the theater I was inhabiting, his appearance was greeted with howls of laughter. Which is no knock on Norris. His scene was staged in such a pretentious way that you couldn’t help but think it was intended to get a laugh, an assumption reinforced by the fact that Norris goes on to make what is by now a familiar Chuck Norris joke about his own character. OK. Whatever.
What can I say about Expendables 2 that hasn’t been said about season 20 of Gunsmoke? So half the cast is eligible for senior discounts at their own movie. OK, so there are more fake choppers in this thing than in Mussolini’s air force. OK, so there was more hair dye consumed on the set than during the entire run of Golden Girls. OK, so Arnold’s accent has actually gotten thicker over time (in fact, between him, Lundren, Li, Statham, Chan, and Van Damme, not to mention Stallone, there were so many barely intelligible accents that you needed one of those UN insta-translators). OK, so there are three too many “I’ll be back” Terminator references, such that even Bruce Willis has to tell Schwarzenegger to knock it off. OK, so the dialogue reads like Huntz Hall meets the fire-bombing of Tokyo. OK, so the intricate plot could be mapped out on a cashew. OK, so the final blow-out, where everybody and his uncle is suddenly back, plays more like the go-cart chase scene in What’s New, Pussycat?
It’s still OK. A fun-enough summer action flick where the bad guys are REALLY bad and the good guys are unsanctimonious and the action, ridiculous as it is, is nevertheless absorbing. A classic of the genre? Hardly. But where else are you going to see Rambo, John McClane, and the Terminator in one frame now that Planet Hollywood is just another burger joint.
In the event Sly is reading this review, which is about as likely as his reading Origen’s Philokalia (although he certainly read my review of Friday Night Lights, which I had to swap out for his review of Friday Night Lights, back in the SLY magazine days—didn’t cha big guy? Hah? Didn’t cha?), and should there be an Expendables 3, it would behoove him and his studio to consider reviving via digital remastering and holographic magic the tough guys of yesteryear. Wouldn’t you pay to see The Duke, Coop, Bogie, Cagney, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Lee Van Cleef, and a few others back on the big screen, all together, taking on al-Qaeda or whoever invented the TotalGym, a calamitous piece of crap exercise rip-off for carnies and cadavers?
(As for a kick-ass gal pal, there’s always Talullah Bankead or Bette Davis, who could shoot poison darts out of their cigarette holders.)
That’s it for now. I leave you with (1) the go-cart chase scene from What’s New Pussycat?
and (2) a coming attraction: The Man with the Iron Fists!