Back to the affront
Even more geezers, even more guns in another idiotic rubbishfest, writes Donald Clarke
WHEN SYLVESTER Stallone released the first Expendables two years ago, one sensed the world nodding tolerantly, as if at an elderly relative doing a very tired party trick. It was badly carried off. It seemed to go on for an eternity. But we grew up with the old geezer. Give him a break.
The time has come for such tolerance to end. The Expendables was a terrible, terrible film. It’s hard to say if the sequel – during which geriatrics blow up various bits of central Asia – is significantly worse. But it certainly feels creepier, stupider and more depressingly reactionary.
Why have we been indulging these Republican sexagenarians with their plastic faces and swallowed vowels? If you stood in The Expendables 2, you wouldn’t just wipe your feet; you’d throw away your shoes. The thing is beyond execrable.
Stallone has handed directing duties to Simon West, perpetrator of The Rock, who, despite having a respectable budget, has chosen to shoot the film in the shades of muddy grey you’d expect to find in promotional videos for Ukrainian paint-balling holidays.
We begin with a largely incoherent sequence following Stallone and his team as they prise a Chinese businessman from ruthless kidnappers. Keep an ear open and you will catch a pre-emptory warning of dialogue atrocities to come. After dropping the rescued unfortunate by parachute, somebody makes a remark about Chinese takeout. Really? Are you actually saying these words? Worse is to come.
In the opening half hour we meet most of the returning action duffers: Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham. Further down the line, Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme also make appearances.
It would be wrong to say the film is without irony. But the film-makers speak that language in much the same way the proverbial English tourist speaks Spanish. That is to say it discordantly bellows the wrong phrases in all the wrong places to all the wrong people.
Stallone, who co-wrote the script, knows that some sort of self-conscious humour is required, but he doesn’t have the turn of phrase for that endeavour. The supposedly clever references sound like the kind of things fans shout at the stars in the street before asking them for a photograph.
Early on, somebody lends Schwarzenegger a gun. “If I don’t get that back you’ll be terminated,” he is told. Later on, he returns and quips (you’re way ahead of me) “I’m back”. Willis has to listen to some reference to “yippie-kay-yay”. The makers of the Scary Movie franchise worked harder at turning references into functioning jokes.
The plot comprises a series of MacGuffins so perfunctory that they cease to matter even before their purposes have been properly outlined. Pursuing a haul of plutonium, the gang of mercenaries – now augmented by a tough young female, played by Yu Nan – head for the former Soviet Union, where they encounter a fake version of New York City and a more-than-usually superhuman version of Chuck Norris.
The shoddiness of the plot and the laziness of the action sequences would matter less if the lead actors weren’t so heavily and creepily embalmed.
Never a master of clean diction, the only intermittently comprehensible Stallone now speaks as if he is trying to remove a wad of rapidly drying putty from the roof of his mouth. If (as we were constantly told) Schwarzenegger is so darn clever, why has he allowed some maniac to rearrange his face into a scary, immobile wax sculpture of the Austrian hulk in early middle age?
All that said, you couldn’t claim The Expendables 2 didn’t pass the time. Whereas the first film bored more often than it appalled, the new picture is occasionally bad enough to be accidentally hilarious. But we really shouldn’t laugh. Old Uncle Sly really is doing his best.
Macho muttonheads: Sly Stallone, The Stath and Terry Crews