Of course,"The Expendables 2"is all good fun and games and recycled catchphrases. Until somebody gets hurt. A lot of somebodies.
When you're filling the screen with every big-screen action star of the past 25 years — except for Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes and Steven Seagal — and every one of them needs his own body count, you see the problem. You run smack up against the Maximum Mayhem Threshold.
"Expendables 2" is a "Road Runner" cartoon for the bloody-minded, a wise-cracking cavalcade of carnage that hurls bulletproof heroes at the huddled masses of villains, defies the laws of physics, and treats us to so much bloodshed that it's only natural that some of it should spatter on the lens.
Irresponsible as a first-person shooter video game? You bet. But it holds together, more or less, right up to the moment Chuck Norris and his dyed beard make their preposterous appearance. It's a moment that lowers the bar on stupid for the rest of the picture.
Sly Stallone and his team bring their soldier-for-hire thing to Nepal, Albania and environs this time around. There's a debt to be paid — to the spy boss played by Bruce Willis, one more assignment for "your little gang of psychotic mutts."
There's a friendly rivalry with this big Austrian dude who says "I'll be back." Again.
And there's a Belgian-accented heavy (Jean-Claude Van Damme), all sunglasses and big knives and a high kick waiting to happen. His name? Jean Vilain. That's with one "L," mon frere.
"Respect is everything," he purrs. "Without respect, we're just people." He pauses, dramatically. (Or as dramatically as JCVD can manage.) "But respect must be taught."
These Expendable mercenaries — Stallone, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, the redeemed Dolph Lundgren, the absent (better things to do, he checks out early) Jet Li — avenge their own. When somebody in their ranks dies, Barney (Stallone) has three things to say about the bad guy who did this: "Track 'em. Find 'em. Kill 'em."
Liam Hemsworth is a sniper, "The Kid," who joins the crew. Maggie (Nan Yu) is the Chinese "weapons-proficient" expert brought along for the ride.
The "Road Runner" analogy really works here, as director Simon West ("Con Air") doesn't bother with explaining how this or that character shows up, how boats and planes magically appear, and how a plane crash into a mountain is supposed to be survivable. Bugs, Daffy, Elmer and the Coyote just get up, dust off and hop back into action.
Norris' entrance is no sillier than anything else, but his arrival, an hour in, signals the moment when screenwriters, director, cast and crew just threw up their hands, laughed and said, "What the hey?'"
Which is fitting, because that's the arc that the careers of these guys — to a one — took. Serious action pictures, followed by performances that turned into caricatures, ending with movies that were one big muscle-bound joke.
'Expendables 2' -- 1 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout)
Running time: 1:42