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.
October 25, 2002 1:51pm EST
Captain Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) leads a salvage team of five people aboard the tugboat Arctic Warrior with Maureen (Julianna Margulies) as something of a second in command. At a bar one night the crew is approached by a Canadian Air Force pilot (Desmond Harrington) who while monitoring icebergs in the Bering Sea spotted a mysterious vessel. He offers to divulge its location for a cut of whatever it's worth. What the crew finds are the decaying remains of the Antonio Graza an Italian cruise ship thought to be lost at sea for more than 40 years. While scavenging the vessel for valuables the salvage team discovers that something horrendous happened on board four decades ago. To make matters worse the crew starts seeing ghosts including a little girl named Katie (Emily Browning) who warns them to get off the ship before it's too late. Let's just say that the plot involves something about a ghost tricking people into boarding the ship in order to amass a certain amount of souls and complete a mission of sorts. Don't be surprised if you find yourself scratching your head when the ghost's true intentions are revealed--the film leaves many questions unanswered.
Former ER star Margulies (Dinosaur) shares the lead here with Byrne (End of Days) and the most refreshing thing of all is that there is no romance between the two characters. Maureen is a tough and independent woman who has no qualms about living at sea with a bunch of grubby men and Margulies portrays that well. We are told that Maureen and Byrne's character Murphy have a father-daughter-type relationship but that is not explored on screen. While Byrne plays a convincing rugged sea captain his character is never delved into and is dismissed rather abruptly. In fact that is the biggest problem with most of the actors and their characters; they are more like slightly more developed extras brought in to become victims rather than the film's protagonists. Harrington's (We Were Soldiers) character Jack is not as glazed over as the others and the actor conveys the different sides of his personality well enough. The rest of the crew including Ron Eldard as Dodge Isaiah Washington as First Mate Greer Alex Dimitriades as Santos and Karl Urban as Munder do the best they could with the flat and disposable characters they are given.
Ghost Ship opens up with a fantastic scene that involves hundreds of crewmembers and passengers getting dismembered by a high tension wire that slices across the boats main deck. Too bad it's so implausible because unless the wire was lined with razor blades all those bodies wouldn't have been severed so neatly. The massacre is set aboard the Antonio Graza back in 1962 when cruises were still considered a luxury. But when the film zips back to present day it becomes less imaginative and director Steve Beck (Thirteen Ghosts) dips into the old haunted-stories bag o' tricks including ghost reflections in mirrors. But while the gags are a little worn they still scare and are constant enough to keep the film from lagging. The film comes in under 90 minutes which isn't short enough to graze over some of the story's plot holes. The characters for example jump in and out of the icy Bering Sea without the slightest quiver even though their survival time in the 45-degree waters would be measured in minutes. And if Ghost Ship sounds familiar that's because it was made in 1997 and called Event Horizon except that rescue mission was set in the year 2047 aboard a space ship.
Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) is trying to keep his small family together after losing his wife and the mother of their kids Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts) in a tragic fire that left them homeless. Out of nowhere one enigmatic Uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham) wills Arthur a bizarre yet dazzlingly beautiful mansion made almost entirely of glass and filled with priceless antiques. There's not much that could go unseen behind the transparent walls except for perhaps 12 pesky ghosts of disturbed folks like onetime mental patients and a kid whose head got in the way of an arrow. It just so happens old Cyrus with the help of his psychic phantom-wrangler Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) has been summoning up a few restless spirits so he can open the Eye of Hell and take over the world or something. They just need one more spirit to finish the job.
All right who's blackmailing Oscar-winner Abraham into taking roles like this? The man should have thrown the script out sight-unseen and then fired his agent. Rah Digga yet another rapper-turned-wanna-be-actress is there to offer some sassy comic relief as the kids' nanny--she's fun in a usual sort of way. Shalhoub-ho hum. Elizabeth? Yawn. She's not even in half the movie. Lillard it can be said is about the only bright spot in this otherwise not-silly-enough not-cheesy-enough not-funny-or-scary-enough horror movie. He's got the right idea as he tries to camp it up as a borderline hysterical psychic who has guilt issues about being able to see everyone's secrets with his "gift." But worst of all is the usually great Embeth Davidtz (um Schindler's List?!) as a--get this--ghost's rights activist who thinks she's channeling Zelda Rubenstein from Poltergeist as she hisses the obvious: "This house is not a house!"
The only thing scarier than F. Murray Abraham taking a role in this movie is that it ever got made at all--then again we have the Dark Castle folks (the same ones who brought us that masterpiece remake The Haunting a few years ago) to thank. They forgot to hire a director and a scriptwriter instead putting visual effects guy Steve Beck behind the camera to show us some semi-interesting special effects (it is a ghost movie after all and you better score some points there). Unfortunately the movie is uneven makes little sense and strives for both laughs and scares but achieves neither with cornball dialog and silly stereotypes; it's wildly gory to boot. Everyone's gonna say the ultra-modern haunted house is the star of Thirteen Ghosts and with good reason. The production design in this movie is amazing and the idea of ghosts hiding behind clear walls is an intriguing if ultimately wasted concept.