The rhomboid-headed action heroes who convene in The Expendables 2 among them, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, and special guest badasses Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris are realistically thick of waist, uncannily smooth of brow, and ridiculously white of teeth. Even when they're ambulatory, these gents have the limited flexibility of posable figures who are worth more as collectibles, untouched in unopened packaging. And two years after Stallone first gathered a core cadre of fellow rusting iron men in The Expendables, I couldn't be happier to see them, oiling their gun barrels, grunting their one-liners, and blowing away bad guys who speak English with suspicious accents. Not for a minute does this lot suggest that there's any post 9/11-ish, global-warming-ish, economic-meltdown-ish subtext to their stupidly impressive antics. What a fun-dumb relief! In the isolationist Expendables world, all foreigners are bad news. All buddy bonding is done with a wink. All pretenses of art are checked at the door. Someone even says, ''I'll be back.'' (Guess who?)
And the beauty is, this testosteronic movie is perfectly exportable all around the globe. Dub the whole thing in Tagalog or Urdu, skip the subtitles, and it would still be universally understandable. Rocky! Terminator! John McClane! USA! USA!
Stallone himself directed The Expendables, with a meaty hand and slapdash control. The Expendables 2 benefits from the meaner, leaner moves of Simon West, a dab hand at brute-force, eyeball-gouging action pix (he's got Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider on his résumé). The picture opens with a great/ludicrous action prologue, an insane rescue mission set in a hostile ''Nepal'' that's little more than a generic Asian hellhole full of sadistic maniacs. But the bullet-riddled heart of the story concerns simple, simpleton brute force revenge, as the team seeks payback for the death of one of their own, killed on the orders of Jean-Claude van Damme as Euro-evil incarnate. There's also the matter of retrieving stolen computer gadgetry that just might blow up the world. The fellas eat their grub, strap on their weapons, and lumber into combat. For the first time, the dudes are joined by a kick-ass Chinese lady Expendablette, played by Yu Nan, who throws a sultry glower or two at team leader Barney Ross (Stallone) before joining the fray.
Assigning artistic values like ''good'' or ''bad'' to The Expendables 2 is a fool's assignment. The movie is excellent crap, fine junk, an exercise in campy movie nostalgia, and a demonstration of American supremacy in the field of nutty cosmetic enhancements for aging movie stars. I had an inexcusably fine time studying movie-star hairlines and admiring their willingness to let us gawk. B