The Expendables 2: Blugarian Shopska Salad

Year Released: 2012

Directed by: Simon West

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Jet Li, Scott Adkins, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Yu Nan, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger

(R, 103 min.)

"To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."  Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The second outing for this crew of Hollywood-action-hero-has-beens opens with an over the top action sequence that verges on self-parody.  But it is that self-aware irony that gives this popcorn film some heft.

Although the two films are certainly not on the same level, the characters in The Expendables 2 share that same quest for identity and relevance as the aging Brits in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Stallone has recruited some more star power for this latest film, with Bruce Willis’ CIA agent, Mr. Church, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shadowy mercenary, Trench, both expanding their 2010 cameos.  He has even enticed Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude van Damme to come aboard.  Somehow I can imagine Stallone giving his spiel.  It might sound a little like Tennyson’s poetic portrayal of the aged king Ulysses gathering his warriors for one last trip.

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. 

Uttered, of course, with the infamous clipped diction unique to Stallone, his eyes at once liquid and steely, his crooked grin a deal closer.  That and the profit projections, since both Expendables franchises kicked butt at the box office as well as on screen.

We certainly miss Mickey Rourke, who brought a his extensive acting chops to his earlier role as Tool, the job scout for the gang as well as their personal tattoo artist.

Liam Hemsworth brings current relevance to his role as Billie the Kid, the newest recruit, a young sniper disillusioned with the limiting rules of engagement he encountered in Afghanistan, where he ended up burying too many of his army buddies. And Nan Yu’s Maggie breaks into the all boys club as an expert computer decoder, who also happens to ride one mean motorcycle as well as turning into an appropriate killing machine when she needs to.

Her nerves of steel soon earn her the unconditional respect of this macho club, and in between battles they fall all over themselves trying to impress her with some pretty lame pickup lines.

Stallone, who co-wrote the script, also has fun mixing the real background material of his actors with the film’s story line.  Dolph Lundgren, best remembered for his Russian boxer Ivan Drago opposite Stallone in Rocky IV, recaps his role as the slightly mad Gunnar Jensen.  Lundgren, the son of a member of the Swedish Parliament with a master’s degree in chemical engineering speaks 7 languages, so I guess we can forget all those dumb Swede jokes. 

To stifle laughter as Gunnar tries to “McGiver” an explosion using some of the rocks lying around a cave in which they are trapped, Stallone brags about Gunnar’s education to the crew, listing Lundgren’s real academic credentials. They listen up and brace for the impact, as do we in the audience.  And of course, nothing happens.    

We also are treated to a slew of self-referential one-liners from the aging icons.  This exchange between Schwarzenegger and Willis will give you the idea.

Trench: I'll be back.
Church: You're always back. This time, I'll be back.
Trench: Yippee-ki-yay. 

After a while these quips begin to get in the way of the plot, which you may have noticed, I have not yet gotten around to mentioning.  Well, it is pretty thin and predictable, mainly a vehicle for these guys to haul out the heavy machinery and flash their biceps for us, so maybe that isn’t really too much of a defect.  It does begin to feel like a parade of celebrities rather than a stand-alone story, however, a flaw not so evident in the 2010 effort.

But then again, I wasn’t expecting a three-course dinner, just a large beefy burger with all the extras, including the super-sized fries.   And that is just what I got.

–Kathy Borich


Film-Loving Foodie

There is a great scene with the team in Blugaria.  They are camped out at an old Soviet military training base that is suited up to look just like small town America, complete with a Coca Cola sign painted on the old brick wall and a fake store front Pizza Parlor.  Unfortunately, for our hungry mercenaries, neither the cola nor the pizza is available.  And the little bubbling pot of soup that Toll Road is cooking up, thanks to his "planning ahead," as he calls it, will only serve one. 

So they have to settle on imagainary culinary pleasures prompted by Barney's too close for comfort question asking everyone what they would eat if this were their last meal.  Barney suggests "all that junk food that supposed to kill you," while Maggie dreams of Chinese noodles and Gunnar favors  Sweedish meatballs.

If neither of them suit your fancy, why not try this recipe for Bulgaria's most famous Shopska Salad.  It is a delicious blend of tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers, just the thing for an end of the summer harvest from your vegetable garden or suopermarket.  And don't forget the feta cheese.  Who says only the Greeks can use it.

Bulgarian Shopska Salad

Shopska salad is Bulgaria's most famous salad. It's named for the Shoppi, or natives of Sofia. It's perfect in the summertime in Bulgaria, when the tomatoes are the freshest, but it's wonderful year-round.

Here's Rali's recipe...

What you need:

4 tomatoes

2 cucumbers

2 roasted peppers or fresh green peppers

2 spoonfuls chopped parsley

2 spoonfuls chopped onion or green onion (optional)

half a pound of white cheese (feta)

salt, vinegar, oil to taste

How to make it:

Cut the tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers in small pieces, cubes if possible. Mix well with the parsley, onion, salt, vinegar and oil. Serve with white cheese grated on top. Enjoy!

Ralitsa's Kitchen