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The Expendables 2
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold
Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis

EXAGGERRATED RIDICULOUSNESS: A mashup of action stars from yesteryear meet back up in a romp unlike any other in “The Expendables 2.” Courtesy photos

This movie is a no-brainer. And in so many ways. It’s about as smart as a perpetually drunk communications major at Ohio State. It contains an oversized cast of action heroes that could probably only win a battle of wits if killing was on the table. Like the first film, it’s a fantastic idea that has been a long time coming.

Take every action star on the planet and cram them into one giant movie—that’s “The Expendables 2.” If I were 16, this would be an orgasm-inducing, explosion-filled dream-come-true. Now it feels like a wonderfully nostalgic romp, hanging out with old friends and watching them brutally murder a lot of people.

They don’t make movies like this anymore, and it’s a damn shame. Because at one point, the action film was probably the most fun one could have at the movies. They were opulent trash—over-the-top mashups of violence and humor that were relentless in their efforts to entertain an audience. Yes, a lot of them were terrible. I’m not someone who holds up B-grade trash from yesteryear and assigns it undeserved value. But “The Expendables 2” was fun, and fun is something that the cinema has been lacking for quite some time.

There’s a reason “The Avengers” made a billion dollars worldwide—not because it was the biggest movie or the best movie. Yet, it would be tough to argue that it wasn’t the most fun movie so far of 2012. The characters were allowed to have personalities, joke with one another, and act like real human beings. It wasn’t the cynical, morbidly depressed heroes that have populated our action films in the 21st century.

Look at the reboot of “Total Recall.” Actually, scratch that. Don’t watch it. It’s pretty heinous. Yet, it is a prime example of why action films need to have someone crack a smile once in awhile.

If nothing else, “The Expendables 2” is fun—stupid, gratuitous, unapologetic fun. It’s an excuse to get the band back together, kind of like a cinematic “greatest hits” collection. And they’re all here—from original action heroes like Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to B-movie stalwarts like Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li. Even newcomers like Liam Hemsworth (“The Hunger Games”) get to mix it up with epic action icons like Chuck Norris. And they made the smartest move of all time by including the world’s most ridiculous movie star ever created: Jean-Claude Van Damme. He plays a villain named Vilain (yes, I’m serious), who hams it up harder than a coke-fueled pigsty. He fits perfectly into the model of dusting off old movie stars well past their prime and having way too good of a time doing so.

The plot feels cobbled together from a dozen different action films. Barney (Stallone) and his team of expendables are off on a globe-trotting mission to stop a war criminal from obtaining some weapon-grade plutonium. Stolen nuclear materials? In an action film, you say? Unheard of! The truth is: The plot is no more recycled than higher-grade junk, à la “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.”

Still, the action in “The Expendables 2” remains pretty damn fantastic thanks in no small part to the talents of Simon West (“Con Air”), who really seems to excel at creating big, obnoxious set pieces that end up being remarkably well-executed. A film like this lives or dies by the fight scenes, and this one serves up plenty of unbelievably crazy action. For instance, I was not aware that a high-powered sniper rifle contained enough firepower to make someone’s head explode. Physics and logic be damned! This is a world where ammunition never runs out, where 60-year-old men fight one another and don’t die of a heart attack, and where everything shot at has the capability of exploding into a massive fireball. I like this world; it’s fun.

Kudos to Schwarzenegger who somehow manages to come out of retirement and channel the kind of manic, unbridled performance that he built his career on: mangling lines and spewing catchphrases like a man half his age. It’s almost as if he has transcended traditional performance and evolved into something beyond irony. It’s as if he is actually trying to portray himself. One may think it would require very little effort—but not Arnold. Instead, he expends five times the normal amount of raw acting energy to deliver a kind of mega-charged Arnold Schwarzenegger 2.0. It’s a marvel to behold.

In fact, all the performances are. Stallone’s voice has so little treble, he sounds like a blown speaker. Dolph Lundgren has a stupid grin on his face for most of the film, like he’s just happy to be working. And do I really need to waste words describing the acting acumen of MMA superstar Randy Couture?

I wasn’t really thinking about the acting as I watched the film’s climax unfold: Stallone, Willis, Schwarzenegger and Norris murdering hundreds of nameless villains in an action orgy unrivaled in modern cinema. The fact that these old-school icons are smiling as they mow down countless henchman is just hilarious. Never has genocide been so great! For 90 minutes, I got to hop into the way-back machine and remember the glorious feeling of watching the good guys brutally kill their enemies, leaving enough time between reloading to utter a ridiculously written catchphrase. If nothing else, “The Expendables 2” is gobs of fun.

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