Wanna see a triple-‘Ex’ film?
MANILA, Philippines - Incredible coincidence no. 1: The Expendables 2 is coming out in Philippine theaters on the same week as The Reunion.
While Sylvester Stallone’s latest caper is far from similar to Star Cinema’s newest glitzerama about high school chums in a get-together, the idea of reunions is built into The Expendables 2.
Not only does the bloody extravaganza reunite most of 2010’s The Expendables ensemble (MIA: Mickey Rourke and Steve Austin) or even actors of earlier movies (Stallone and Dolph Lundgren traded blows in 1985’s Rocky IV), it also “reunites” Sly and his brawny peers — Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Lundgren — with the genre they and their fans dig best: ’80s-era, kill-’em-all action. (Heck, even TE2’s film quality is old-school grainy and there are jarring, MTRCB-satisfying cuts here and there.)
Incredible coincidence no. 2: The Expendables 2 is indeed a throwback to slam-bang cinematic fare of the Reagan years, which lost box-office steam as the new millennium drew near.
B-movie, straight-to-video enthusiasts might even liken it to many efforts by the late Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago, who specialized in low-budget Vietnam war movies in the ’80s. One of Direk Cirio’s, um, Viexploitation flicks is a 1988 rarity/oddity co-starring Vic Diaz entitled… The Expendables.
Expect jolts of joy
Writer-actor-director Ben Stiller had lampooned this kind of “actioner” via 2008’s Tropic Thunder — his gleeful, satirical take on what it takes to make a hot-head war movie.
The Expendables 2 is a little more fickle.
On the one hand, it’s a straightforward affair teeming with gritty guys with guns and grenades (plus a lone gal Yu Nan, last seen in Speed Racer) — the kind that can make our own dormant action stars (hello, Senator Lapid) salivate and dream revivalist dreams.
On the other hand, TE2, as was its cheeky predecessor, is loaded with smart-ass self-referencing, a pop-will-eat-itself dynamic that has made The Simpsons a TV staple.
Its humor factor — self-mocking and shameless as it can be — is the best thing about The Expendables 2, which was written by Stallone and Richard Wenk, and directed by Simon “Con Air” West.
When Schwarzenegger and Willis exchange lines alluding to each other’s hits (Bruce: “You’ve been back enough already!” Arnie: “Yipee-ka-yay!”), when Lundgren’s science-savvy mercenary gets laughed off (the actor does have a chemical engineering degree), when the fleeting Jet Li parachutes away with a rescued countryman-abductee (Jason Statham’s character quips, “Now that’s a real Chinese takeout”), when Willis casually mouths off TE2’s own 4-word synopsis (“male-pattern badness”) or when Chuck Norris simply makes his applause-deserving entrance, The Expendables 2 emits jolts of joy, the kind of fun that can incite a hearty reaction from even the callous viewer. (Best of the lot: Ah-nuld’s very last line, which we shall not spoil for you.)
So much ma-cheese-mo
Regrettably, jokiness is just a fraction of The Expendables 2 equation.
Two-thirds of it is a gun freak’s wet dream: excessive testoste-rowdiness replete with massive artillery, thousands of bullets expelled from various firearms and much onscreen blood spurting not seen since Saving Private Ryan, complemented by punching, knifing and chain-whipping.
Stallone and the movie’s other “good guys” may play mercenaries for hire here, but they’re really in the business of violence — and business is damn good. And the way they banter with each other, these expendable dudes do put the “cheese” in machismo.
The movie does have some dramatic pauses in-between the abundant bloodshed, in the process implying how connections between people — among co-workers, among families — can be both boon and bane of human existence, leading to either emotional satisfaction or fatal conflict.
But this glimmer of gravitas is hardly given room in favor of more visceral connections, such as a furious fist connecting to a bad guy’s face.
And the action might be an embarrassment of adrenalized riches, yet it hardly incites empathic cheers in the hearts of audiences the way superficial bonanzas like Willis’ Die Hard or Schwarzenegger’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day did. Gripping action movies makes you punch the air just as the villain gets a taste of his own bad medicine.
The Expendables 2 can only make the viewer punch a straw into the beverage cup.
An ‘Exthreeme’ sequel coming soon?
If it’s any consolation, The Expendables 2’s constellation of superstars is not utilized in the more forgettable vein of the Cannonball Run movies of the 1980s.
Yet, its genuine pleasures aside, TE2 could leave discriminating viewers with a tinge of regret. Not just regret at having blown time and dough on it, but at the lost chance at exploiting the concept of ’80s action stars in an ’80s-style flick to a truly creative or more endearing hilt.
One can only imagine what wonders more adventurous directors could have done with The Expendables 2’s star power and US$100-M budget. (I am somehow reminded of Jim Jarmusch’s 1991 gem Night on Earth, an engaging collection of 5 made-up vignettes celebrating the dynamic between cab drivers and passengers. In short, perhaps the next Expendables shebang can have more story even amidst the gory?)
Should Stallone — who has steered the Expendables franchise after taking hold of original scriptwriter David Callaham’s work — decide to eke out a 3rd “Ex” movie, here’s hoping he’d veer from the this-is-one-big-joke sensibility of the Expendables to date and make the next sequel either a more resonant, more memorable diversion, or a truly far-out escapade.
Of course, that would be like wishing upon a shooting star, especially when the star prefers mindless shoot-’em-ups to mindful shut-us-ups. - Rappler.com