Yeah, yeah, I get it: "The Expendables 2" is a fun-loving throwback to the gloriously bad action films of the 1980s. Here's what I don't get: Why couldn't it be a throwback to the good ones?
The 2010 original, starring Sylvester Stallone and other square-jaws from the Reagan era, had potential to reinvigorate the long-gone "hard action" genre. But Stallone, who wrote and directed, went for easy self-parody -- bombs, bullets, bad guys exploding like watermelons -- instead of genuine excitement. His strategy was to mock the movie before his audience could.
Likewise, the main joke of "The Expendables 2" is how lame it dares to be. Stallone returns as mercenary Barney Ross, along with Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture as his lazily-sketched helpmates. Jet Li drops out early, replaced by Yu Nan as Maggie (a girl!), and Liam Hemsworth plays eager newcomer Billy "The Kid." While trying to swipe the blueprints for a Russian nuclear cache -- talk about the '80s! -- one of the Expendables is killed, prompting a new mission: revenge.
Director Simon West ("Con Air") gives the movie a jokey, sloppy, straight-to-video feel, but he's not the only one. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis are back with bigger roles and more one-liners about their better movies; the famously wooden Chuck Norris, in his franchise debut as Booker, seems to have petrified with age. The only player with his heart in the game is Jean-Claude Van Damme, relishing his role as a European villain named -- get this -- Vilain.
There is some nasty business at odds with the lighthearted vibe: Maggie is an expert torturer and butcher, which seems a little unsavory. But "The Expendables 2" is generally a carbon copy of the first film: mildly amusing but deeply unsatisfying.
PLOT Barney Ross and his mercenaries seek revenge for one of their own. RATING R (graphic violence, language)
PLAYING AT Area theaters.
BOTTOM LINE Another mocking salute to dumb action flicks, but the joke's on you: It really is dumb.
'Expendables 2' star Crews a tough act
"Stallone put me in the company of the best, biggest and baddest brothers in the world," he says. "I'm just a kid from Flint who grew up watching these guys' movies. And I get to act with them? And then he gives me the best character name ever put in an action movie -- Hale Caesar! Best name I've ever heard. Well, next to Hellraiser!"
Caesar's role among the Expendables? "He's Elmo with a gun! He's all emotional. When Caesar's happy, everybody's laughing. When Caesar's mad or sad, watch out!"
When his NFL career ended and he tried acting, Crews realized he had two assets: the scary-funny thing, which he modeled on Christopher Walken. ("He's always funny and scary at the same time. He taught me that's a great place to be.") And the build.
"You don't get a body like this in a gym. My body comes from hitting people at 20 miles an hour. I know a lot of people try to get there other ways. But you can't fake it. This body comes from collisions, 20 years of collisions. . . . Every lump on my head, every scar. I earned it."