Just because you’re a Dream Team doesn’t mean you don’t have to work for your medal. When the US men’s Olympic basketball squad won gold in London earlier this month, there was a fair amount of comment about lessons learned at the ’04 Athens games, when the team never came together, and left with bronze.
Shades of Sylvester Stallone’s “Expendables” franchise. Sure, there’s inherent interest in seeing old-school action icons tossed together in the same sandbox, but imagine what a blast it could be if the movies gave them genuinely inspired material. As it stands, “The Expendables 2” is lazily satisfied with repeating the first movie’s formula, shortcomings and grisly strengths alike, just as the first movie was content to slavishly, ploddingly cover the hits of the ’80s.
Directed by genre journeyman Simon West (“Con Air”), the sequel reunites Stallone’s grizzled mercenary with his bulletproof core crew: right hand Jason Statham, loose-screw Dolph Lundgren, backup muscle Terry Crews and Randy Couture, and (briefly) Jet Li. Wunderkind sniper Liam Hemsworth (“The Hunger Games”) and Chinese actress Yu Nan are the group’s new recruits. And for those keeping a fanboy scorecard, the lineup again includes Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, in slightly expanded roles. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays bad guy, with semi-intentional panache. (It’s partly just the sunglasses.) And Chuck Norris is the most busily social “lone wolf” around. If there’s one way the sequel does try harder, it’s in the lots-of-moving-parts department. Slow-moving parts, but still.
The initial setup involves CIA man Willis dispatching Stallone and company to Eastern Europe on a safecracking job, but when the group is ambushed by Van Damme, they’re soon ordering up a combo meal of plutonium recovery and revenge. Along the way (and in a breakneck hostage-extraction opener), there’s enough chunky bloodshed and creatively choreographed knife-throwing to equal the first installment’s grungy thrills. What’s also the same, though, is the disappointing lack of cleverness. Lundgren is divertingly kooky, and Van Damme flashes an annoyed, Eurotrashy attitude that could be better leveraged. But more clunky “Ah’ll be bahk” jokes? Please, say they won’t be, even the self-referential ones.