Dave's Rating:

3.5

Pass the death, hold the jokes.

Somebody needs to physically restrain Sylvester Stallone from getting near Final Draft when he's got a self-referential joke on his mind. I nominate Grace Jones for this task. I think she's capable.

Thing is, the biggest joke taking place in the world of the Expendables is its own existence. Watching Chuck Norris emerge from the smoke of a super-assault -- one that he alone caused, one that resulted in the death of dozens of bad guys at once, one that included an exploding tank and gunfire originating from so many directions that the only explanation for it is that he created a dozen killer clone holograms of himself and installed them in various sniper-friendly locations just in case they might be necessary later -- well, there's your laugh.

But no, the script insists on making these guys speak directly to one another about Rambo and Terminator and Die Hard and Lone Wolf McQuade. Then it makes them stare at each other for one beat too long. Then it instructs them to chuckle in each others' direction about how ha-ha it all is. It's "meta" for morons and wastes precious screen time that could be better used in the service of more extreme killing. I didn't come to this R-rated action movie for lunkheaded in-giggles. I came for violence and chasing and stuff getting blown up. If these guys want to get me to laugh they can go make a "Call Me Maybe" video.

But I've complained too much. This next chapter might feature more terrible moments of non-violent chat than the first installment, but when it's time for the mayhem to erupt, it easily out-murders its predecessor. Plot is plot: Jean-Claude Van Damme is enslaving villages of people to find plutonium buried in an Eastern European mine. Bruce Willis, in turn, calls for The Expendables who, in Stallone's words, must "track 'em, find 'em, kill 'em." Stallone and the rest of the guys (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Schwarzenegger, Norris and lone woman Nan Yu) get down to the business of wrecking Van Damme's operation. And business is good.

Nobody told these people about any cinematic "crisis of masculinity." To be cartoonishly tough -- they directly refer to guns as phallic objects un-ironically and become indignant when the action forces two of them into a SmartCar -- comes as naturally to the cast as breathing in Stallone's secondhand cigar smoke or putting Clairol for Men into their unusually not-gray beards. And that's good. That's how it should be. Action movies like this are nostalgia for the simple and blunt and traumatic and gut-level and preposterous and forgettable. I'm into it on that level because that's what it's for. The awesome absolutely outweighs the awful. So I welcome the future belching out of Expendables 3. Just leave the witty dialogue punch-ups to Joss Whedon.

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