Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Expendables 2, Hit and Run

The Expendables 2
Hit and Run

The one thing you have to give "The Expendables 2," it doesn't stand on ceremony. Within the first two minutes, about a hundred bad guys have been killed, one or two at a time, before we know why they're bad or why we should care. There's another scene early on in which Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham co-pilot an airplane that has to gain altitude to clear a tall embankment. Rather than give us an exciting shot (from either side) of the plane just getting over (or grazing) the bulwark, director Simon West cuts from an interior shot of Sly and Statham to one of the plane flying well past it. Totally inept.

"The Expendables 2" is, of course, a meta-exercise in self-referential (self-reverential?) irony, but an inside-joke movie is hard to pull off (Steven Soderbergh did it in the first two "Ocean's" pictures). The humor here isn't in a spirit that brings the audience into the circle - not to mention, it's not funny. (I didn't laugh once.) The dialogue in the interminable scenes between the violence sounds like it was translated from Chinese, or designed to be. Sly resembles not so much an action hero but a pizzaiola named Luigi with chronic emphysema (I doubt he, Clint or Harrison could talk above a high C if there was an Oscar in it for him). Bruce Willis, as is often the case, comes off best, evoking '80s memories of cock-of-the-walk guys like Bruno and David Addison.

Dax Shepard's "Hit and Run" is another inside-joke comedy, albeit with one laugh. It's framed as a couple-on-the-run road chase movie, but you could drive its '67 Lincoln convertible through the holes in its logic. Shepard plays Charlie Bronson (yuk yuk), a failed getaway driver turned informant who's been holed up in Podunk for four years under Witness Protection. His girlfriend, Annie (Shepard's real-life squeeze Kristen Bell, not winning), who has a doctorate in conflict resolution (yeah, right), scores a dream-job interview in L.A., which we're first told is 500 miles away, then we're told will take two days to drive to. Which is it?

En route to L.A., they're chased by Annie's jealous ex Gil, the accomplices Charlie ratted out (Gil tells them the pair's whereabouts), Charlie's incompetent Witness Protection officer (Tom Arnold in a wincingly unfunny performance), and a gay cop who's so busy checking Grindr he ends up ramming into motorists - and then hitting on them. Shepard and Bell have packed "Hit and Run" with cameos by friends, from a totally wasted Beau Bridges as Charlie's dad to Kristen Chenoweth, woefully miscast as Annie's pill-popping department chair. Shepard has an interesting face and big, beautiful eyes; with a long shower and the beard shaved off, he could be quite sexy. A comic director, though, he's not; "Hit and Run" sputters along, generating no car-chase excitement or comic momentum.

Both of these pictures are at the very low end of the necessarily wide-ranging 1.5 star rating.

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