By G. Michael Dobbs
Two glorified B-moves are featured in this week's DVD review column.
The Expendables 2
The first "Expendables" film was a master class in stunt casing. The idea of banding together action heroes some of whom are fairly long in the tooth for a film was an act of marketing genius.
Fortunately, the film as directed by Sylvester Stallone, the star of the movie, was enjoyable in a goofy way. It was difficult to take the film seriously and its largest charm was the sense the actors seemed to be having fun.
For the sequel, Stallone handed over the writing and directing chores to others and the result is a tighter, largely more credible film. The film stars Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and, in expanded cameos, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Director Simon West kicks off the film with an outstanding sequence with the mercenary group storming what appeared to be some sort of outlaw Chinese stronghold to rescue a kidnap victim, played by Schwarzenegger. That leads to the main story in which the mercenaries are forced to take on what would appear to be a routine assignment of rounding up some stray plutonium. The job is complicated when a group of bad guys not only take the plutonium, but also kills one member of the group.
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays the chief heavy and he proves to have plenty of chops to protray a formidable villain.
For action fans, this film is a fun joy ride. Some of the territory will seem a little familiar, perhaps and the film's chemistry is weakened a bit by the departure of Li's character after the opening sequence.
West, who directed "Blackhawk Down," knows how to stage action and the film moves along at a faster pace than the first one.
The vintage of the some of the performers was more apparent in this outing. The addition of Chuck Norris, who at age 72, just seemed to capable of walking around a bit, didn't do very much for the film. Stallone's efforts to retain his youth have resulted in a slightly disconcerting look. Van Damme, on the other hand, seemed to have added a dimension with age.
Would I see a third installment of the series? If it has the energy and style of this one, absolutely.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
I mention this film in light of the new biographical film, "Lincoln," in the hope that people don't take it seriously. I know that history isn't the favorite subject for some people, so let me assure you there is no evidence that the real Lincoln wielded a vampire-killing axe.
Talk about a high concept: Abe Lincoln is recruited to kill vampires as a young man a practice that he brings to the White House and winds up playing a pivotal part in the Civil War.
Now, I thought such an outrageous concept would be handled with some element of dark humor, but director Timur Bekmambetov plays the subject matter very straight. In fact, the more earnest the film became, the sillier it seemed to me.
The movie was not helped by the wooden performance by Benjamin Walker, whose Lincoln was painfully awkward and often thick as a brick. Although there were better actors in the cast, such as Rufus Sewell and Dominic Cooper, Walker's portrayal was crucial for the success of the film.
The production also has an odd cheapness to it that is a killer for any period film.
This film isn't even worth the dollar rental from the Red Box.