Entertainment

‘Expendables 2’: Fleet-footed and engaging | 3 stars

“The Expendables 2” offers an adrenaline-filled send-off to summer.

As he proved with the original installment, Sylvester Stallone grasps the action-oriented DNA of the films’ badass cast with an intuition derived from dozens of genre roles.

The sequel finds Barney Ross (Stallone) and his team of hard-bitten mercenaries on a mission to extract a kidnapped Chinese billionaire in Nepal, where they discover that someone has gotten there before them — Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), another operative for their contractor, Mr. Church (Bruce Willis).

Freeing Trench and the billionaire from their captors, the team returns to the States, where Church confronts Barney with an unpleasant reminder: The Expendables’ leader owes Church $5 million. But he is prepared to make a deal if Barney takes on a new assignment.

The catch is that he will need to place Church’s operative on his team, Chinese tech expert Maggie (Yu Nan). The addition of a woman to the all-male Expendables almost immediately throws group dynamics out of kilter.

To make matters worse, the gang is soon ambushed by an Eastern European crime cartel led by the sadistic Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme).

Taking over directing duties from Stallone, Simon West preserves the hardboiled action and wisecracking dynamics of the original, channeling some of the B-movie tonal elements he might have picked up directing “Con Air.”

Managing the complexity of stunts, aircraft and vehicle pileups and frequent shootouts that comprise the majority of the running time is a major challenge that West executes with elan, even adding unexpected grace notes to some otherwise routine scenes. Numerous gunfights, combat set pieces and fight scenes are muscularly staged and skillfully rendered, though the sheer sound volume grows repetitive and wearying.

With such an expansive cast, there’s a risk that the quality of performances might be diluted by the quantity of recognizable actors. But co-screenwriter Richard Wenk and Stallone have generously given both major players and cameo actors their own often humorous character traits and dialogue.

Stallone anchors the cast with a sometimes nuanced interpretation of Barney’s mix of personal and professional demons and plays it straight as a foil to Jason Statham’s put-upon sidekick.

A late scene with Van Damme’s suitably sadistic villain shows that Stallone still has the charisma to carry an intimately staged fight sequence.

Scwarzenegger’s brief role of Trench is adorned with some of the best dialogue in the script. While he’s every bit as creaky as the other vets his age, relying more on very large weapons and cutting humor than unarmed combat, Schwarzenegger still can steal a scene, particularly in the final set piece where he’s paired with Willis, who relies more on smirking threats than decisive action until the final reel.

What others are saying

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Dave Calhoun, TimeOut London:

“Hair dye and wrinkles aside, if someone told you that the negative was found on the shelf of a studio that went bankrupt in 1991, you’d most likely believe them.”

• Roger Moore, McClatchy- Tribune:

“Expendables 2” is a sillier wallow in excess, a too-cute trip down ’80s Action-Film Lane with one past-his-

expiration-date action hero too many for its own good.”

• Richard Phippen, Sky.com:

“To not enjoy ‘The Expendables 2’ is to take life too seriously. This is an action movie that wears its heart on its sleeve, before plunging a knife into it, twisting it, shooting it and then blowing it up. With an airplane.”

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