Jet Li

The Expendables 2

Directed by Simon West

Produced by Avi Lerner

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone and Richard Wenk

Story by Ken Kaufman, David Agosto and Richard Wenk

Based on characters created by David Callaham

If they continue on making them this entertaining and this much fun, they can make Expendables movies from now until the lid is slammed shut on me. They last time I had this much fun watching a movie was when I saw “The Avengers” and for a lot of the same reason: I felt like I was watching a lot of old friends that I’ve known for years together at last. And like “The Avengers” which put together a bunch of classic Marvel superheroes on screen at the same time for the first time, THE EXPENDABLES 2 finally gives up what the first “Expendables” only teased us with. At last The Holy Trinity of Action Heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis) standing shoulder to shoulder blasting the hell outta the bad guys.  It’s a stand-up and cheer moment for sure and it only gets better when none other than Chuck Norris joins the party.

But before that we get an absolutely outlandishly kick-ass pre-credits sequence where The Expendables invade Nepal to rescue a Chinese businessman. The old crew is back together: leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) knife specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li) demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture) weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren.) They also have a new member: Billy The Kid (Liam Hemsworth) because you can never have enough snipers.

After the Nepal rescue, Barney is approached by CIA spook Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) who still is not happy about the way the Vilena mission The Expendables undertook for him went down. He proposes a new mission to clean the slate. Barney will take on another new member, technical expert Maggie (Yu Nan) and fly to Albania to recover an item from a crashed airplane. The Expendables do so, only to have the item stolen from them by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his private terrorist army, The Sangs. Maggie reveals that the item is a computer that contains the blueprints for an abandoned Soviet Cold War era mine being used to store five tons of plutonium. Vilain and his right hand man Hector (Scott Adkins) have some really wicked plans for this plutonium.   It’s up to The Expendables to stop Vilain and if they have to blow up the country to save the world…well, that’s just what they’ll do.

And at times it does seem as if they’re going to blow up the country with all the explosions going off. Not to mention the horrendously high body count they rack up in their pursuit of Vilain. And that’s before The Expendables are joined by Mr. Church, the mysterious lone wolf commando Booker (Chuck Norris) and Barney’s rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who comes along for the ride. You can imagine the carnage that ensues with that kind of extra firepower added to the team.

And what a ride it is. Watching THE EXPENDABLES 2 for me is like stepping into a time machine and going back to the heyday of Action Movies: the 1980’s. I suspect that those of you, like me, who remember going to the theaters back then when it seemed like every week there was a new movie starring one of these guys playing will get more of a thrill just out of seeing these guys on screen together than anything else. Seeing them all together and obviously having so much fun is nothing less than a blast. And there’s a lot of inside jokes that I chuckled at but I suspect went right over the heads of most of the people in the theater I was watching the movie with.  My favorite one is when Barney casually mentions that Gunner has a degree in chemical engineering and threw away a promising career in that field for a girl. Google Dolph Lundgren and you’ll see why I found that funny. I also got a big grin out of Chuck Norris’ character being named Booker and being described as a lone wolf. Again, Google Chuck Norris and check out the synopses for “Lone Wolf McQuade” and “Good Guys Wear Black” and you’ll get the joke.

With the new members of the team on board as well as Willis and Schwarzenegger having bigger roles in this one that means that Toll Road and Hale Caesar don’t have as much to say but they get just as much of their share of the mayhem. And I like how Randy Couture quietly reminds us that his character is the team’s intellectual by having Toll Road simply reading a book in the background while plot exposition is going on in the foreground. And while Hale Caesar does not have a show-stopping moment in this one as he did in “The Expendables” (but let’s face it…taking down an attack helicopter by throwing a missile at it is a tough act to beat) Terry Crews makes sure that when Hale Caesar does have something to do, it’s memorable.

I also liked the action sequences in THE EXPENDABLES 2 better than the first one. The editing on the first movie was way too choppy in several fight scenes and during the final assault. That’s not the problem here. The action scenes are wonderfully and cleanly shot, full of noise and energy and gloriously blood-drenched with plenty of really impressive practical stunts.

That’s not to say I liked everything about the movie. I didn’t like how one of my favorite characters from the first movie has what amounts to a glorified cameo and simply drops out of the movie. And I’m not merely being descriptive. The character actually does drop.  Charisma Carpenter is totally unnecessary in this movie.  Even more so than in the first one and really, there’s no reason for her character to be in either one of them. The subplot dealing with the relationship between her character and Statham’s Lee Christmas is even more ridiculous considering that Lee spends more time talking to Barney about it than he does to his supposed girlfriend. I’m a big fan of Charisma Carpenter and hey, if the movie wants to give me gratuitous shots of her in a scandalously skimpy dress wiggling and jiggling in a bar, I’m not gonna complain. But she’s too good an actress to be wasted on a three-minute scene that any actress could have played.

So should you see THE EXPENDABLES 2? If you saw the first one, absolutely. Even if you didn’t see the first one, go see THE EXPENDABLES 2. The action is spectacular, especially the Nepal rescue and the final showdown in an airport where Couture, Crews, Lundgren, Norris, Schwarzenegger and Willis decimate the Sangs while Stallone and Van Damme have their mano-a-mano deathmatch. The jokes are as fast as plentiful as the bullets and it’s just such a pleasure to see a good old fashioned Action Movie made by and starring talent who know what they’re doing and do it supremely well. THE EXPENDABLES 2 gets my highest recommendation.

103 minutes

Rated R

The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor

 

2008

Universal

Directed by Rob Cohen

Produced by Sean Daniel, Bob Ducsay, James Jacks and Stephen Sommer

Written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar

Since I’m a major fan of pulp action adventure there’s very little chance of you getting a bad review of THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR outta me.  I think it’s only fair to tell you that up front.  Even though I did miss the direction of Stephen Sommers and Maria Bello is no substitute for Rachel Weisz.  And yes, the climatic battle between the two undead armies did go on about five minutes longer than it should have and it’s true that Brendan Fraser didn’t have to yell: “I hate mummies!” every ten minutes.  But I was willing to overlook all that and just allow myself to enjoy what is essentially a B-movie with an A-budget.  It’s not the best of ‘The Mummy’ movies but it does exactly what it’s designed to do and really, that’s all I ask from any movie.

Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Evelyn (Maria Bello) live in a splendid English country mansion big enough to have its own zip code.  They’ve retired from their life of wild adventuring and while Rick attempts to become a proper country squire, Evelyn has become a best-selling writer, using the adventures she’s had with Rick as the basis for her books.  The adventuring is handled now by their son, Alex (Luke Ford) who is something of a maverick like his dad and has quit college to join an expedition to discover and excavate the tomb of Han, The Dragon Emperor (Jet Li)

 

Alex soon learns that he’s in way over his head as there are two factions fighting over the mummy of Emperor Han.  It turns out that Han was cursed by the witch Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh) more than two thousand years ago to remain encased in living rock but he can be revived if one knows how.  One faction knows how and it involves a giant diamond, The Eye Of Shangri-La while the other faction mostly consists of Zi Juan’s daughter Lin (Isabella Leong) and Zi herself (didn’t I mention both mother and daughter are immortal?  I didn’t?  Sorry, my bad) Rick and Evelyn are soon heading to Shanghai to help out their son, picking up Evelyn’s brother Jonathan (John Hannah) and a half-drunk pilot, Mad Dog Maguire as backup.

It’s a race against time to find the mystical city ofShangri-La and stop Han from reclaiming his humanity and his awesome mystic powers to control the five elements (earth, air, fire, water and metal) which he needs to resurrect his army of warriors and resume his ambition of ruling the world.  Considering that he’s now in the year 1946 and his men are armed with spears and swords while modern armies have bombs, machine guns and tanks, I must say that admire Han’s confidence.  Me, I don’t think that the modern world would have sweated Han too much, even with his magic powers but then we wouldn’t have much of a movie, would we?

How much you want to see this movie depends on how much you like pulp adventure, Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh or the previous ‘Mummy’ movies I would guess.  The ‘Mummy’ movies have been looked upon as ‘Indiana Jones Lite’ but I think that’s unfair.  There’s more enough room for two globe-hopping adventurers in the movies today and indeed, back in the 30’s and 40’s where these movies are set you could go to your local theater or newsstand and there were literally dozens of movies and magazines featuring two-fisted men of action that were the grandfathers of both Rick O’Connell and Indiana Jones.

What sets the ‘Mummy’ movies apart and especially TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR is the interaction between this family of adventurers.  Alex has grown up into his own man and his style of adventuring is different from his mom and his dad’s.  But even though father and son have their differences they can still bond over mutual interests such as what’s the best machine gun to use against a rebel Chinese army trying to kill you or exactly how much dynamite it takes to blow up a golden shrine.  Evelyn is trying hard to be a lady and a respectable mom but she’d much rather be raiding tombs and destroying evil mummies trying to take over the world.  Jonathan has become a successful nightclub owner but he drops it all to help out his brother-in-law, sister and nephew save the world.  Of course the fact that Rick and Evelyn have The Eye Of Shangri-La has nothing to do with it.

By now Brendan Fraser can do a ‘Mummy’ movie without thinking about it.  He turns in a dependable, solid performance and here he’s not just a rough-and-tumble mercenary with a quick quip for every occasion.  He’s now a husband and father and he takes a little more time to think about what he’s doing and how it affects the people he loves.  Luke Ford does an okay job but I liked the relationship between Rick and Alex better in the previous ‘Mummy’ movie.  Here Alex has an attitude toward his father for much of the movie and I never quite understood why.  I like Maria Bello as an actress but for some reason she didn’t do anything for me here.  She did have a cute little scene during a book reading where she’s asked if the character in the book is anything like her.  Her answer kinda reminded me of George Lazenby’s classic: “This never happened to the other fellow” line from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”

Michelle Yeoh walks away with the acting honors in this one.  Her character has a fascinating back story and the first ten or fifteen minutes of the movie relates that in such a way that you almost wish the entire movie would continue that story.  She’s never anything less than convincing and of course any time you get to see two such masters such as her and Jet Li fight on screen that’s a definite bonus.  Don’t look for a lot martial arts from Jet Li in this one.   He does have some nice fight scenes but nothing spectacular.  And I’m always delighted to see Russell Wong in anything as I was a major fan of ‘Vanishing Son’ and he has a small but pivotal role in this movie.

 

So should you see THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR?  I would say yes.  It’s a totally undemanding movie and asks nothing more than you sit back, relax and have fun.  It’s got hidden tombs with lethal death traps, undead armies, Abominable Snowmen, Shangri-La, plenty of chases, fights and last minutes escapes from fates worse than death.  And it’s done with style, good humor, top notch stunts and special effects.  It’s one of the most enjoyable Saturday Afternoon Movies I’ve seen in quite a while.

112 minutes

Rated PG-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Expendables

2010

Lionsgate

Directed by Sylvester Stallone

Produced by Avi Lerner

Written by Sylvester Stallone and David Callaham

There are those who said even before the movie came out, speaking just on having seen the trailers that THE EXPENDABLES looked to be nothing more than Sylvester Stallone attempting to relive his glory days when he was one of the major action stars back in the 80’s.  These good folks, having regaled me with their smug wisdom sit back and ask me what I thought of that.

My response is that he does have glory days to remember and try to relive which is more than most of us will be able to say when we check out of this existence.  And he’s blessed that he can relive those days in some excellent company indeed in this movie.  THE EXPENDABLES will probably be most appreciated by those like me who remember the seemingly endless truckloads of action movies produced by Golan-Globus and Cannon Films back in the day.  THE EXPENDABLES is a love letter to the testosterone fueled action genre of the 1980’s and testosterone is exactly what you’re going to get.  Ladies who go see this movie should immediately check themselves in the rest room after viewing to be sure they aren’t growing hair on their chests or have a few more dangly bits they have no business having.

The Expendables (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture) are an elite team of mercenaries headquartered in a tattoo parlor owned by Tool (Mickey Rourke) who has retired from field duty but apparently handles the team’s accounts.   He sets up a meeting with the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) who wants to hire The Expendables to take down General Garza (David Zayas) the brutal dictator of Vilena, a South American country that would be a paradise if it weren’t for Garza’s death squads running around doing what death squads do best: cause death.

Barney Ross (Stallone) and Lee Christmas (Statham) go down to recon the layout and finds out it stinks worse than houseguests who just won’t leave.  Seems as if Mr. Church didn’t tell them the whole story, surprise, surprise.  Garza’s just the front man.  Vilena is really being run by rogue CIA agent James Munroe (Eric Roberts) and his two hulking huge henchmen (Steve Austin and Gary Daniels)  Barney and Lee escape from Vilena but they have to leave behind their contact Sandra (Gisele Itie)

Something about Sandra’s passion to deliver her country from the hell it’s becomes wakens something in Barney’s spirit and after a heart-to-heart with Tool, he’s determined to go back to Vilena and put things right.  Not for the money but for his own redemption.  Naturally his team can’t let him go it alone and that leads to The Expendables taking on an entire army in a massively apocalyptic battle that could easily qualify as Vietnam Part II.

I had a lot of fun watching THE EXPENDABLES.  Sometimes I’m awful easy to please and this movie had me right from the gunfight at the beginning.  A gunfight that itself had more of a body count than entire movies.  And who honestly can resist a movie that for the first time has the Holy Trinity of 80’s Action Heroes (Schwarzenegger, Stallone & Willis) on screen together?  Oh, sure there are a lot of lines between the three that are nothing but nudge nudge wink wink to the audience but hey, it’s that kind of movie and I liked the whole “Hey! We’re puttin’ the band back together!’ feel of the movie even though this is the first time some of these guys have worked together.

Stallone and Statham work together as smoothly as if they’ve been making movies together for the past ten years.  Randy Couture was an unexpected source of humor as his character, demolitions expert Toll Road is the intellectual of the group.  Dolph Lundgren gets to demonstrate his trademark scowl as the psychologically damaged sniper Gunnar.  Jet Li also shows a surprising flair for comedy as he provides the movie’s running joke of him continually demanding a raise.  His deadpan delivery is what sells the running joke and I cracked up every time he came up with a new reason why he needs more money.

Everybody makes the most of their screen time and every one of the characters, good or bad gets a moment to show off which I really liked as both the good guys and bad guys are all accredited badasses and that makes the final showdown one between groups of equal skills and strength.

That’s not to say that I don’t have my gripes with the movie.  The Jet Li/Dolph Lundgren fight could have really been a David vs. Goliath type of match-up but the way it’s choreographed I really couldn’t appreciate Jet Li’s moves.  The Expendables all have colorful, wonderful names but I didn’t even know what the names of Randy Couture’s and Terry Crews’ characters were until I read them in the end credits.

The editing during the hand-to-hand combats were too choppy for me at times and one thing I really hate in a fight scene is not being able to tell who’s beating the piss outta who.

But that’s just me.  The whole point of THE EXPENDABLES is as simple as a hammer to the back of an unprotected head: put a dozen tough guy actors together in one movie and give them 103 minutes to shoot, stab, blow stuff up, run over everything in sight, smash, slice and generally raise cinematic hell.  And have a lot of fun doing it.  I know I had a lot of fun watching them do it.

Rated R:  For the astounding level of violence in this movie.  It’s not as jaw-droppingly brutal as say, the last 30 minutes of “Rambo” but its close.

103 minutes.