It's rare that a sequel trumps the original but The Expendables 2 manages to do just that with a steady stream of one-liners and welcome weathered faces as well as a few new ingredients. E2 seems even more self-aware of its own silliness especially with Jean-Claude Van Damme as the villain (named Vilain of course) and Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger popping up in smaller roles alongside previous Expendables Sylvester Stallone Jason Statham Jet Li Dolph Lundgren Bruce Willis Terry Crews and Randy Couture.
Then again The Expendables wasn't any sort of action classic; it was like writer/director/star Stallone threw a whole bunch of ideas at the wall to see which would stick then added massive amounts of weapons and the occasional hand-to-hand combat. It was popular but it definitely not the kind of awesome actioner that the stars were able to make 10 or 20 years ago. There's the rub actually; like women actors who have written or directed their own projects because nothing else was available or satisfactory Stallone created The Expendables because Hollywood didn't seem to know what to do with him and his fellow action stars as they got older. It's easy to criticize Stallone et al for not doing the same amount of stunt work or hand-to-hand fighting that for example Statham is capable of but the whole thrust of the movie is that they're expendable -- to themselves to the world and until Stallone kickstarted these movies to Hollywood.
E2 is still clumsy but it's a little more adventurous and a little more introspective. Two new additions to the crew seem to throw everyone for a loop in one way or another. Liam Hemsworth shows up as Bill the Kid a sniper who left the military after a raid in Afghanistan went horribly wrong; his age and hopefulness not to mention physical prowess is a foil the Sylvester Stallone's Barney Ross and one that Barney is well aware of. Nan Yu joins the team as Maggie who is apparently the only person who can disarm the safe that holds whatever secret thing Church (Willis) has sent them to retrieve. And if the Expendables don't get her back alive Church will make them pay because even though Maggie is some sort of multilingual computer genius with a vicious roundhouse she's a lady. On one hand perhaps we're supposed to gather that this group of old dogs is learning new tricks by having to deal with a smart capable woman in their midst; the attempts Gunner (Lundgren) makes to flirt with her are clunky and goofy and she's obviously way too smart for fall for that claptrap. On the other when she whips out some instruments of torture Barney cracks "What are you going to do give them a pedicure?" And of course her role also devolves into an incredibly stilted and unbelievable romantic interest for Barney. One point for trying but two points deducted for falling into the romantic interest trap.
At times it's hard to tell whether or not we're laughing with the crew or at them. Plus because of how jam-packed the cast is some actors get the short end of the stick. Statham is the most charismatic of the bunch and he also has the most impressive hand-to-hand fight scenes but the emphasis in E2 is sheer firepower so he doesn't get nearly enough screen time. Couture is fairly forgettable while Lundgren plays the lunkiest of lunkheads; the running joke is that he has a chemical engineering degree from MIT and was a Fulbright Scholar which is supposed to be funny... except it's also true. (We're to assume he's mended his evil ways between the first Expendables and the second.) Is Lundgren agreeably poking fun at himself the same way Schwarzenegger hams it up at every turn? Or does E2 have shades of JCVD which stars Van Damme was a washed-up action star? Are the emotional moments supposed to fall so hilariously flat on purpose? For some reason it seems important to tease out which parts of these movies are earnest and which are tongue-in-cheek.
There's a weird melancholy about watching this group of aging action stars that has the same tang as watching someone you love grow older especially as they try so very hard to fight the ravages of time. If you dig a little deeper maybe deeper than E2 warrants you could find a well of sadness below the back-slapping antics. The world has changed and even though Stallone and his crew have muscles so hard and juicy they could pop out of their skin like grapes they can't compete with Bill the Kid and Maggie and others like them. They know it and we know it and while it's good fun to see old friends or onscreen enemies kill scores of bad guys (led by JCVD sporting a truly horrible fake Baphomet-style neck tattoo) there are better smarter more exciting and more interesting action films on the horizon.
And there's also The Expendables 3.
This long-delayed fantasy film touted as the most expensive film in South Korean history is some kind of mess. As the title implies dragons do go to war--but the real casualty of this endeavor is the patience of even the most undiscriminating viewer. Here is a movie absolutely overstuffed with exposition and backstory but none of it adds up to anything remotely cohesive or comprehensible. An ancient prophecy about Korean serpents becoming dragons and laying waste to the world is about to come true--some 500 years after it first came to pass. Pressed into service to save the world (or a computer-generated facsimile thereof) are a young TV reporter (Jason Behr) and a girl named Sarah (Amanda Brooks) both of whom are destined to play a pivotal part in the ultimate salvation--or destruction--of mankind. It’s only a matter of time before downtown Los Angeles becomes a war zone. Both Behr and Brooks play their roles with absolute conviction. Unfortunately in this unintentionally outrageous context they come off as laughably stiff as a result. Their obligatory onscreen romance comes off as just that--obligatory. If they’re humanity’s last hope then we’re in big trouble. Chris Mulkey and Elizabeth Pena turn up as FBI agents. Nice to see them getting work but it would be even nicer if they--being the talented actors they are--were given something anything to do. By default Robert Forster comes off best as Jack a wise antiques dealer who definitely has a vested interested in the fantastic goings-on. It’s a stock role and not a particularly good one loaded with senseless dialogue. But Forster manages unlike his co-stars to inject just a little bit of humanity and humor into the proceedings. Writer/director Hyung-rae Shim relies totally and wholly on CGI effects to tell the story but because the story is so unabashedly stupid that reliance comes off as seriously misguided. Dragon Wars is not remotely credible even by fantasy-film standards and it’s not fun enough to encourage audiences to suspend disbelief. There’s never a sense of wonderment or fun and that’s deadly in a film like this. As befits the filmmaker behind such a one-dimensional a film Shim is basically a traffic cop. The actors go here. The effects go here. And despite the endless CGI effects the rest of the cinematography is murky and dark. Dragon Wars (or D-War as it was originally known) does qualify as a movie: It has a beginning a middle and an end--and all of them are useless.
When Professor Utonium (voiced by Tom Kane) creates Bubbles (voiced by Tara Strong) Blossom (voiced by Cathy Cavadini) and Buttercup (voiced by E. G. Daily) he's as excited and proud as any new parent. Then they start to fly around the room. From there we're treated to several scenes of "growing up Powerpuff " from their first peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (crusts cut off using infrared vision) to their first day at the Pokey Oats School (they learn to play tag and destroy the town doing it). When the townspeople see the destruction the girls have wrought they imprison the professor print nasty newspaper headlines ("Freaky Bug-Eyed Weirdo Girls Broke Everything") and vow to get those pesky kids. Disillusioned and depressed the outcast girls find solace and sympathy in an alley with a hobo named Jojo (voiced by Roger L. Jackson) who assures them in no uncertain terms that he is in the same boat. "Alas little ones " he says "I do not rock." But Jojo does have a plan: With a little help from the girls he'll build a machine that will make everything better--and the townspeople will like them again. In a life lesson on why you shouldn't talk to strangers the girls believe him and so they end up using their powers to help him achieve what is actually a diabolical goal--to take over Townsville using an army of mutant simians. Once the girls realize the error of their ways they battle Jojo (who's now calling himself "Mojo Jojo") and his army of monkeys attempting to save the world before bedtime--and to earn the trust of the townspeople.
The squeaky-clean voices of actors playing the Powerpuff Girls seem perfectly suited to the bug-eyed fin-fingered creatures; they're somehow innocent and experienced at the same time especially Daily's Buttercup. Strong's Bubbles certainly does bubble and Cavadini's Blossom imparts the steely resolve that makes her the leader of the pack. For comic punch though the monkeys really steal the show--Jackson's Jojo is supreme evil animated and he lets you know it. Kane's ability to perfectly capture the tone of a 1950s elementary school documentary voiceover should not go unnoticed either.
When Professor Utonium set out to create some little girls he didn't mean for them to have super powers. It just kind of happened when a little "Chemical X" got thrown into the mix. The same could be said of director/screenwriter Craig McCracken's final product: It's not a great film--even by kids' film standards--especially compared to the original TV show. It's slow in key places (the game of tag is interminable and the monkey battles go on and on) and kids will probably lose interest quickly as a result. But there are a few "X" factors that make it interesting for both kids and grownups as long as they can be persuaded to keep watching. First monkey jokes. The monkey army that Mojo Jojo attempts to lead is full of sneaky tricks for obliterating the town and wresting control from Jojo including baboon butt bombs the "sauce of chaos" and a barrel that rolls over things in the street including people and a dog that looks suspiciously like Snoopy. Second Planet of the Apes references. Buttercup rails at one of the chimps to "get your hands off him you darn dirty ape!" Third a mayor with an obsession for large green pickles sold from a cart: he's bizarre and slightly disturbing but nonetheless entertaining.
After getting paid $28 million to NOT sing, Mariah Carey is now in talks with several major labels to get paid to sing. According to Reuters, several industry sources say that Carey, recently released by EMI's Virgin, has been canoodling with RCA, Island Def Jam and Elektra and is certainly a bankable recording artist. EMI has shown other poor judgment in letting artists go, as the Wallflowers were jettisoned just prior to their multiplatinum album in 1996, and Shaggy was given the heave-ho only to have one of the best-selling albums of 2000. Ah, good times.
In the battle for late-night television supremacy, The New York Times reports that ABC (having already nabbed football commentator John Madden from Fox) is going after CBS' David Letterman. If Dave jumps to ABC, that would sound the death knell for Ted Koppel's Nightline. Of course, CBS may agree to let Dave go if ABC promises to take The Ellen Show and Family Law off its hands, as well.
Jennifer Lopez is on top again! (We like the idea of Jennifer being on top.) J.Lo is queen of the music charts this week, as her remix album bested Linkin Park, Alan Jackson and Kirk Franklin.
After a 14-year lay-off, Madonna will once again tread the boards of live theater. The pop diva is to lead the cast in London's West End play "Up for Grabs," which premieres May 23. British citizens were heard to comment, "I don't care if she lives here, marries Guy Ritchie in a castle and appears in a London play; that still doesn't make her a citizen of the realm!"
It doesn't take an Old Testament Bible to know that Luke Perry returns to television this Sunday on Showtime's Jeremiah. Jeremiah takes place in the God-forsaken future (unlike Jeremiah the prophet, who lived in the God-forsaken past), when the planet's inhabitants have few resources and have to scrounge for whatever they get. Which largely describes Luke Perry's career since he left Beverly Hills 90210.
Fox, the network that brought you Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?, sinks to a new low with Celebrity Boxing. The first few bouts will feature "the battle of the bad girls" (Amy Fisher vs. Tonya Harding) and Brady Bunch's Barry Williams (Greg Brady) vs. Partridge Family's Danny Bonaduce (Danny Partridge). We couldn't make up material this good. We're just waiting for Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak to rumble in the ring together.
More from the world of late-night television: Jay Leno's in trouble for a joke he made about a South Korean delicacy. Leno quipped that disqualified South Korean speed skater Kim Dong-sung "was so mad he went home and kicked the dog, and then ate him." Former South Korean prime minister Kim Jong-pil was so outraged that he called Jay Leno "ill-mannered." Apparently ABC prizes manners above all else, which must be why it's going after Letterman and not Leno.
The TV ratings for the Grammys this year hit a six-year low, Reuters reports. Although it dominated Wednesday night ratings, the Grammy show's 19-million-viewer average was still at least 6 million lower than each of the past three years. CBS has allegedly said it will pay for J.Lo to get a new dress for next year's show.
Paul McCartney is setting off on a new "Long and Winding Road" as he starts a 20-show, 19-city North American tour over the course of eight weeks. Reuters quotes McCartney as saying he is "chuffed" to start the tour, his first since 1993. We have no idea what that means, but we like how it sounds.
In a case of music's musical chairs, two former Destiny's Child members are suing the current members of Destiny's Child for making disparaging remarks about them on the current album by Destiny's Child. Confused? So are we.
Rebellious punk group Sex Pistols' acerbic version of "God Save the Queen" is being re-released to mark the current British monarch's 50th anniversary on the throne. (Help her, someone! She's sat down and she can't get up!) Of course, the highlight of the song is lead singer Johnny Rotten snarling, "God save the queen, she ain't no human being"--or is that just a recent quote by Prince Charles?
Continuing on the royal theme, the Queen's teenage grandson, Prince Harry, has been cleared by British police on charges of marijuana use. Prince Harry had no comment on the matter, though for some unexplained reason it appeared he was holding his breath.