Armed with a cast of critical punching bags like Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's probably a safe bet that "Expendables 2" wasn't made with an eye toward piling up rave reviews.
But the testosterone-fueled sequel has actually been surprisingly successful with reviewers, who find the film to be an explosion-heavy late-summer diversion. The film currently has a 66 percent "fresh" rating on critical aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Its score is better than that of recent blockbuster hopefuls like "Total Recall" and "The Bourne Legacy."
In addition to Stallone, "The Expendables 2" brings together such 80s-era muscle men as Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme with more youthful action heroes like Jason Statham and Liam Hemsworth. Like its predecessor, it follows a merry band of gun-toting mercenaries on a seemingly impossible mission and deploys roughly as much napalm during its less than 2-hour running time as the Vietnam War. It opens today.
For Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum, the film is a perfect distillation of the kind of brainless fun that Hollywood churns out every summer. It's not going to win any awards, but it does dish out a healthy serving of violence and mayhem, along with the added pleasure of allowing audiences to assess its graying stars' receding hairlines.
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"Assigning artistic values like 'good' or 'bad' to The Expendables 2 is a fool's assignment," Schwarzbaum writes. "The movie is excellent crap, fine junk, an exercise in campy movie nostalgia, and a demonstration of American supremacy in the field of nutty cosmetic enhancements for aging movie stars."
Also finding himself in the "excellent crap" camp is The New York Times' Neil Genzlinger, who called the film "dumb fun." In particular, he cites Norris' gift for poking fun at himself as central to the campy appeal of "The Expendables 2."
"Mr. Norris arrives just as the blood baths and leaden dialogue are beginning to grow tedious, and his deadpan self-parody is pretty darn funny," Genzlinger writes. "More important, it gives you permission to laugh at the rest of this mindless movie, which is the only way to choke it down."
Writing in USA Today, Claudia Puig says the film is cartoonish and gory, but fun.
"The Expendables 2 is corny, barbaric and sometimes visually murky," Puig writes. "But humor and self-deprecating macho charm make this male pattern badness crowd-pleasing fun."
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But not everyone thought the spectacle of aging action stars was worth the price of admission. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone confesses he wanted to like the film, but felt pummeled into submission by its relentless action sequences.
"The script tries to beat audiences and critics to the punch by supplying its own insults," Travers writes. "Spotting an aircraft on its last leg, Stallone says, 'That plane belongs in a museum.' Snaps Schwarzenegger, 'We all do.' Ouch. The truth hurts."
Also ready to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger hang up the uzis was John Anderson. In his review, The Wall Street Journal critic chastised the film for being both loud and dull.
"It may be a bit late in the game to bemoan the kind of hyper-violence that makes up so much of 'The Expendables 2,' given that its cast has been practicing movie mayhem lo these many years," Anderson writes. "But does it all have to be so tedious?"