All-star Expendables 2 is reasonably fun and reasonably dumb; Real-life sweeties Shepard and Bell are fast and spurious in Hit a

by Mark Burger

Sylvester Stallone, hair seemingly darker than it was in the original Rocky (1976), leads the blood ‘n’ guts contingent of The Expendables 2 , a film whose very existence is predicated on the box-office success of the 2010 original, which was fun junk.

The junk’s still fun and so’s the cast, although the novelty of the concept, such as it is — and patented during the heady high-concept Hollywood daze of the ’80s and early ’90s — isn’t quite as fresh as it was the first time out.

With Stallone content to co-write the screenplay (with Richard Wenk), the directorial reins have been taken up by Simon West, he of such undistinguished high-concept fare as Con Air (1997), The General’s Daughter (1999) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001). Yet at least West knows how to make things move. In a film like this, that counts for something.

Once again, Stallone’s muscle-bound, battle-scarred mercenary Barney Ross is thrust into action, on a mission to retrieve some weapons-grade plutonium and avenge the death of a trusted friend. How the story plays out adheres strictly to the formula, a formula which is known by the viewer going in. Good guys win, bad guys lose. When the shooting starts, which it does with some frequency, good guys have good aim and bad guys don’t. Bullets fly, bodies fall. Along the way, there’s plenty of macho posturing and an endless stream of pithy, tough-guy one-liners.

Admittedly, for the intended audience, that’s exactly what they want to see, and The Expendables 2 rattles along with a rough-and-tumble aplomb that isn’t without its ragged charm, and the same might be said of the film’s sometimes grainy cinematography. Logic and logistics take a backseat to the mindless mayhem, with characters getting from one place to another and recovering from bullet wounds and bone-crunching injuries in record time. There are some vicarious thrills to be had in the film’s finale, involving the demolition of an airport where good guys and bad guys congregate for one final mash-up.

Back for their second round of action are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Coutoure and Jet Li, although he parachutes out of the proceedings early on. Newcomers to the fold include Liam Hemsworth, Chuck Norris and Yu Nan, all doing their share of damage in the name of entertainment — although some have little more to do than just that.

Is it any wonder that villainous Jean-Claude Van Damme — playing a character named Vilain, no less (and no kidding) — even bothers to show up? Still, the perennial “Muscles from Brussels” has some fun playing a heavy. No points for guessing who wins the climactic brawl between Stallone and Van Damme, and no points for guessing whether enough of the principals are still intact at the fade-out for a potential third installment. Rest assured, it’s already in the works.

It’s hit-or-miss much of the time, but Hit and Run , passes the time easily and breezily enough as a lightweight, late-summer throwaway starring real-life couple Dax Shepard (also co-director, screenwriter and co-editor) and Kristen Bell (also coproducer).

He plays the amusing named “Charlie Bronson” and she his girlfriend Annie. When Annie gets an important job interview in Los Angeles, Charlie offers to drive her — a situation not without complications as he’s been in the Witness Protection Program for the last four years, having fled LA after giving his testimony.

Off they go, pursued in various degrees of hot pursuit by her exboyfriend (Michael Rosenbaum), her ex-boyfriend’s cop brother (Jess Rowland) and his partner (newcomer Carly Hatter), a bumbling federal marshal (Tom Arnold) with a history of firearm mishaps and, inevitably, the very gang (led by scene-stealing, dreadlocked Bradley Cooper) Charlie desperately wants to avoid.

Other interested parties who turn up include Kristen Chenoweth as Annie’s Xanax-popping boss, David Koechner doing his rube routine, Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, Joy Bryant, Ryan Hansen and Beau Bridges, the latter adding some late-inning lift as Charlie’s estranged dad.

There are the obligatory car chases and crashes, a few vulgar sight gags and the expected bickering that develops between Charlie and Annie, whom Charlie didn’t quite tell everything about his pre-Witness Protection past. Shepard plays it goofy, Bell plays it straight, and the two have a comfortable rapport.

There isn’t a whole lot to Hit and Run. It’s neither as good as it might have been, but it’s hardly as bad as it might have been, either. It’s a take-it-or-leaveit time-killer, good for a few laughs.

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