What's really kind of awesome about The Expendables 2 is how much more it rewards you when you don't check your brain at the door. I mean it is stupid, but in exactly the way it's supposed to be. It's a re-tread that could only stand out in this place and in this time. The Austrian Oak, The Italian Stallion, The Muscles from Brussells. This flick breaks the fourth wall not directly, but with references to its stars other movies. It blows shit up convincingly (and often), and while my erstwhile colleague Joshua Blevins Peck pronounced The Expendables one of his Top 5 Worst Things of 2010, I'd hope he'd agree that the sequel is an improvement over a film that just didn't quite fulfill the promise of its ideals.
Say Cheese? A grumpy group of action movie veterans headlined by Sylvester Stallone takes yet another run at box office success in The Expendables 2.
Because the way The Expendables 2 does a Nestea plunge into Megaforce-level archetypes, with an unabashedly nerdy predilection for missions and gear -- tons of bodies being ripped to shreds by gunfire, explosions that feel like brush strokes in a familiar painting and spotlight fight scenes for the ensemble cast that feel like guitar solos in a heavy metal symphony -- The Expendables 2 pretty much delivers on everything the first film should have, by not taking itself so seriously.
Following the events of the first (which found the ragtag mercenaries on a mission to take down a South American general) we rejoin our protagonists, Ross (Stallone), Christmas (Jason Stathem), Hale Ceaser (Terry Crews), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), Hector (Scott Adkins) and new kid, Billy (Liam Hemsworth) in a Bond-esque opening sequence -- a mission to rescue a Chinese businessman in Nepal. After laying indiscriminate waste to everything in their path, they inadvertently discover that they are also rescuing Trench (Arnie), Ross' old rival. They pair up to finish the job.
But Trench isn't the only old rival to resurface when Ross is cornered after a post bar celebration by Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) a CIA agent still stinging from The Expendables making off with $5 million in the last flick (I forget how that happened). Church has a mission for the crew that will enable Ross to repay his debt. It seems deceptively simple. Find a wrecked plane in the Bulgarian mountains and retrieve a flash drive that must not fall into the wrong hands. The catch? They must take Church's protégé, Maggie (Yu Nan) along for the ride.
When the mission goes awry, and The Expendables find themselves in on a different kind of rescue mission, while racing to stop a madman, Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme, simply owning this movie) from his evil plan to be truly evil. His gang, the Sangs, is neck-tattooed with Satan goats. He thinks he's a Herald of Satan. That rules.
Directed by the hack that is Simon West, whose Con Air was about as close as he came to Tony Scott-style schlock (R.I.P. Tony Scott), The Expendables 2 delights in its own referentialism, not just from other franchises, but also in every action movie trope imaginable while banishing suspension of disbelief so convincingly that one doesn't think twice when Stathem launches a providentially placed motorcycle into a helicopter, or when Stallone flies a cargo plane into a mineshaft with all his passengers surviving.
West handles the action with a gleeful sense of aplomb -- this is instantly his best film -- and admirable skill, a sense of spatial coherence that is at once improbable and adeptly executed. But the way he, and the cast, wholly commit to the Aqua Velva-soaked, leathern-skinned antiquity of it is the source of The Expendables 2's ultimate charm its mash-up, Gen-X nostalgia. Rocky and Ivan. The Terminator and John McLane. The Transporter and Universal Soldier. Somehow, the script by Richard Wenk (Vamp!) and Sly crafts all the camaraderie and good guy/bad guy cliché's into a warmly satisfying, physics-defying whole.
Everyone gets his moment, but Van Damme steals the flick with his dead serious, reptilian and utterly irredeemable, Vilian. Whether he's roundhouse kicking knives into people's chests or embarking on a Mola Ram-like quest to find some plutonium and change the balance of world power, Van Damme is almost satirical in a film that's making fun of itself.
The Expendables 2 is a blast -- especially, if you think about it.
The cause of sibling rivalry has been the source for many a dramatic tale from "Romulus and Remus" to Judge Dredd. With The Do-Deca-Pentathalon the ever prolific Duplass Bros. mine comitragic strife from the age old conflicts that pit brother against brother in a classic competition of strength and will.
Desperately Seeking Sunscreen. Steve Zissis and Mark Kelly star as sibling rivals in The Do-Deca-Pentathlon.
Mark (Steve Zissis) is a frumpy family man who lives with his wife, son and mother when his younger brother, Jeremy (Mark Kelly) comes to stay at their house. Mark and Jeremy have always been in competition. They created the Do-Deca-Pentathalon, a twenty-five event competition --everything from laser tag to underwater breath holding -- in order to determine who is, indeed, the superior sibling. The event was seemingly tied and Jeremy has never been able to let go of the perceived slight (he thinks he won).
Now, 20 years later, the pair still has a contentious relationship. Jeremy is obsessed with his "loss" while Mark resents his brother's competitiveness and that he still raises doubts about the outcome of the pentathalon -- all while Mark harbors his own simmering discontent at married life.
When Jeremy decides, once and for all, to prove who is the better brother by starting a new pentathalon, Mark can't resist the temptation -- despite his wife's disapproval -- to enjoin his brother in a fight to the breath.
The Duplass Bros. are on familiar, mumblecore ground here. Completed before Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Pentathalon rings a little closer to Cyrus, with its contentiously familial tale of retarded one-upmanship. Unfortunately, it doesn't revel in the same narrative joys of Jeff. Pentathalon feels like much earlier, less refined Duplass -- enjoying neither the visual polish of something like Jeff nor its deeper narrative sensibilities. It scores occasional laughs and is as reliably light hearted, as you might expect from the Duplass Bros., but sufferers from a sense that this was fired off over a weekend and shot the next week.
Mark Kelly is funny and more than a little creepy as Jeremy while Steve Zissis plays Mark as a schlubby, bored family man with something to prove. Their chemistry is appropriately brotherly -- and the film's best moments arise from the hoops they have to jump through to keep the pentathalon from the rest of the family with varying degrees of success.
The Duplass Bros. capture it all in typical guerilla-style, hand-held visuals and the entire -- and brief -- runtime feels like a breezy sitcom episode as opposed to a feature film. Not necessarily a bad thing, but still one can't shake the feeling that the movie exists because they had some leftover film and a few days to shoot it between other, better projects.
The Do-Deca-Pentathalon is available as a theatrical rental On Demand.
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