"Expendables 2" has one rule: Go astronomically big or go home.
That's why this explosive sequel is an overblown, testosterone driven assault on the senses, loaded with aging action stars who make up a senior citizen brigade. This is absurdest filmmaking at its finest because the action often goes above and beyond the most violent military role-playing video games. It's not to the point of being a spoof, but it gets dangerously close.
What passes for a plot has Barney (Sylvester Stallone) and his muscle-bound merry men forced into a suicide mission to stop a crazy mercenary, Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), from stealing truck loads of nuclear material. You really don't need to know more.
Just like the original "Expendables," the worth of this film is measured in the amount of ammunition used, the number of bad guys eliminated and the total sum of equipment destroyed. To that end, there are few movies that can compare. Heck, there are few wars that can compare.
What sneaks through all of the blood and guts is the kind of dry sense of humor that made action films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis so much fun. That the two stars can get into an argument over catch phrases during a torrent of bullets is a reminder that no one is taking this film seriously.
This round of silly savagery is both written and paced better than the first film. That's because Simon West - the man behind "Con Air" and "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" - was brought in to direct. Stallone directed the original, and he was too close to the project to notice all of the gaping holes. West plugs those problems with layers of more action and humor.
The film gets another kick out of Van Damme as the villain. He doesn't snarl nor twirl a handlebar mustache, but he does take great pleasure in being the kind of bad guy who can go shot-for-shot with the bevy of good guys.
"Expendables 2" is like an all-star football game. There's a degree of friendly competition, but it's not as much about winning as the spectacle of so many iconic stars - that also includes Chuck Norris, Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren - being brought together. That's where the film goes the biggest.
THE EXPENDABLES 2
Rated R for language, violence. Stars Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Terry Crews. Directed by Simon West. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.
©2012 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)
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