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Even more geezers, even more guns in an­other id­i­otic rub­bish­fest, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

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.

irish­times.com/cul­ture

Ma­cho mut­ton­heads: Sly Stal­lone, The Stath and Terry Crews

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