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The Wall-to-Wall Macho Violence of The Expendables 2

In Albania, the movie relaxes a little as the boys trade jibes (Barney tells Maggie, in one of several mildly flirtatious scenes that are slightly creepy, that “We keep it light until it’s time to go dark. Then we get pitch black.”). In a witty touch, they encounter a deserted former Soviet street-fighting training ground built to look like a New York City neighborhood and nestle comfortably in such a homey environment. The nostalgia for Stallone’s Cold War-era cinematic triumphs is palpable. In keeping with the 80s reunion theme, Chuck Norris even pops up in a funny cameo.

The many shootouts in Albania tend to be dull; there’s never the slightest sense that any of the important characters are actually in danger, and the director Simon West (subbing in for Stallone himself) doesn’t bother to lay out how the heroes’ skill and ingenuity enable them to keep emerging from firefights with barely a scratch. Instead, it seems as if the good guys always hit their targets and the bad guys always miss. In some cases they don’t even bother to take cover, even during an ambush.

E2 is therefore at its best in the climax, when it is effectively a shameless live-action cartoon. Willis and Schwarzenegger show up and all pretense of seriousness is discarded. Schwarzenegger, with that deadpan cheerfulness that made him the king of the box office, keeps offering up variations of some of his characters’ best-known one-liners and even cracks a Rambo joke, while the ever-unflappable Willis, after being shown a severed head in a bag, pronounces the gesture “a little extreme.” With its wall-to-wall violence, the whole movie is a little extreme, but what did you expect?

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