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Double TTC feature: “The Expendables,” “Piranha 3D”

(Rare it is that not one but TWO films come along that duke it out for top billing in Terrifically Terrible Cinema. But “The Expendables” came along, and then “Piranha 3D” — it was a perfect storm-like convergence of events — and both are so awesomely bad that they must stand together as the most fun you’ll have in what’s left of summer 2010.)

“The Expendables”
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke

Sly Stallone the director and writer, with a few exceptions, does not do subtlety. This is a foreign and unwelcome concept to him, kind of like sap is to Quentin Tarantino. So anyone who waltzed into “The Expendables” expecting anything more profound than a messy, magnificent orgy of testosterone, guts and violence deserves, quite frankly, to be disappointed. In short, “The Expendables” is a certain kind of movie for a certain kind of person: a person who likes to see things — and people — get blown up in large and exhilarating and nasty ways. That’s Stallone’s plan, and he sticks to it using a time-honored formula that requires enjoyably overexaggerated bad guys (a hearty high-five to Eric Roberts for looking so suave while being so evil) to bump heads with quippy, sweaty, rough-edged hero types — “the other guys.” This gaggle of mercenaries who accept suicide missions includes former SAS soldier Barney Ross (Stallone); Lee Christmas (Statham), aces with a blade; martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li); Gunnar (Dolph Lundgren), a sniper dangerously frayed around the edges; Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), a weapons specialist; and Toll Road (Randy Couture), a demolitions expert. Their newest mission is their most perilous yet: These comically named specialists must overthrow Mexican dictator General Garza (David Zayas), whose outrageous accent and furrowed brow fairly scream Very Bad Guy. But all too often behind every ferocious dictator there is an even more deadly financier, and so it is with CIA agent-gone-rogue James Munroe (Roberts), who is positively Idi Amin-like in his greed and lust for power. Barney, Lee and their pals, of course, really loathe such men – especially because they are qualmless about abusing beautiful women (Giselle Itié) with a lot of spunk – and mean to punish them as slowly and painfully as possible. This is where “The Expendables” excels, because Stallone knows deep in his burly soul how to make things explode in ways that will elicit a collective “HELL yeah!” from his viewers. The fight scenes – like Stallone’s throwdown with Steve Austin , or Li’s faceoff with Lundgren – are thrilling, while Crews’ gun should be the basis for a new world religion. Other facets of the movie aren’t quite so impressive, like Stallone and Couture’s forced performances, but Statham, Roberts and Mickey Rourke (an ex-Expendable who now gently weeps over his tattoo needle) are a hoot and a half. And that’s just what summer 2010 needed.

~~~~~~~~~~

“Piranha 3D”
Starring Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen, Christopher Lloyd, Jerry O’Connell

The tagline for Alexandre Aje’s gory bootyfest “Piranha 3D” really should have read: “It’s your only chance this year to see a penis get devoured by a fish — in 3D.” There are many other similarly ludicrous things that happen in this remake of a remake of a remake, but the penis-as-a-palate-cleanser signals the film’s intentions. They are not honorable; in fact, they are not even in the town housing the ballpark of honorable. Aje has one goal and one goal only in this raucous, raunchy sendup to horror film cliches, ham-fisted dialogue and even worse acting: to entertain. And entertain he does, in nearly every way imaginable. “Piranha,” besides being a gem of a 3D film (who wouldn’t rather a piranha explode off the screen than watch sweaty kids shake their moneymakers?), is a barrel of laughs — some goofy and stupid and crude, others highbrow, or at least middlebrow, jabs at films like “Jaws,” “Deep Blue Sea” and “Titanic.” There’s also an unusual ensemble cast with a few surprise cameos. The screwball plot, as it were, goes like so: An earthquake rocks Lake Victoria, setting loose a school of prehistoric piranhas trapped in deep caverns below. Because Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor and impeccable timing, this happens during Spring Break, when teeming throngs of drunk, nubile young hardbodies fill the waters with vomit and pheromones. Sheriff Julie Forester (Shue), Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) and a team of seismologists must get medieval (tee hee) on the tushes of these man-eating relics to save the lives of these hormonal horndogs, including Julie’s straight-laced son Jake (McQueen), his smokin’ crush Kelly (Jessica Szohr), a leering Joe Francis wannabe (O’Connell, an explosion of zeal and sleaze) and his bikini-clad, balloon-chested leading ladies. Oh, and there’s even time for Doc Brown himself to swoop in, though not even a DeLorean can save these teens from becoming shrieking bait worms. There’s not a thing serious about “Piranha,” not even half a teaspoon of nuance, but that’s why it clicks. With everyone – even the normally reticent Shue, who’s clearly suppressing some grins – delighting in this smorgasbord of cheese, it’s hard not to get hooked. (For the real hard-sells out there, a penis gets eaten in 3D. Unless porn goes 3D, answer opportunity when it raps on the door.)

One to Watch: “The Expendables”

Probably the best we can hope for, in a movie like “The Expendables,” with Stallone directing and starring (he’s kind of a Streisand), is a few tongue-in-cheek lines and wagonloads of burnt-crispy stuff (and bodies!).

But as long as it blows up awesome, who cares?

Review: “Idiocracy” (2006)

“Welcome to Costco. I love you.”
~~ Costco greeter

Films about the future have a tendency to push certain rather optimistic ideas: technological advancement; heightened intelligence; evolution. Even those with less-than-positive views of time forthcoming, like “A Clockwork Orange,” depict humans as creatures still capable of higher-order thinking skills. They are capable of affecting technological change. In so many futuristic movies, progress is assumed.

You know what Mike Judge thinks about directors and moviegoers who make assumptions? Rearrange the order of “ass” and “u” in and you’ll have a clearer picture. Or just watch “Idiocracy,” Judge’s hilarious, barbed satire masquerading as a crude, rude, doorknob-dumb comedy. Judge, see, he does not pity the fool who harbors bright dreams and aspirations for the future of mankind. His future contains no advancement or progress. His future contains a movie called “Ass,” an Oscar darling (it won Best Screenplay) that spends 90 minutes with the camera trained on naked buttocks. And let’s not forget The Violence Channel’s most popular show, “Ow My Balls!”

Don’t be misled by gags like this, or the hoards of idiots and the idiotic things they say (example: “Why come you got no tattoo?”); satires don’t come much sharper than “Idiocracy.” Judge’s true genius lies in the fact that he can make movies that look dumb and inconsequential but carry the unmistakable sting of truth. (Think back to Johnny Knoxville’s “Jackass.” Did you watch it? Did you laugh? Are you getting that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach yet?) The “Office Space” creator is blithely unafraid to show the future as he sees it: a tragic dumbing-down of mankind. Joe (Luke Wilson), a military man, becomes his mouthpiece. Average in every way, Joe volunteers, along with prostitute Rita (Maya Rudolph), for a secret government hibernation project. I’m sure you know it goes wrong. Joe and Rita wake up 500 years in the future, in 2505, and discover something is missing from the world, something called “all the smart people.” How did this happen? The narrator (Earl Mann, cheeky little devil) anticipated this question and has an answer ready: “Evolution does not necessarily reward intelligence. With no natural predators to thin the herd, it began to simply reward those who reproduced the most, and left the intelligent to become an endangered species.”

The wall-to-wall hilarity in “Idiocracy” develops as Joe and Rita discover that they are part not of an endangered species but an extinct species. Only Mike Judge could dream up a world like this one, where the U.S. president (Terry Crews) begins his presidential addresses with one word (“shiiiiiiiiiit”); holds a contest to elect the Secretary of Energy and thinks the 12-year-old winner (Brendan Hill) is a safe bet; has a Secretary of Treasury (Sara Rue) everyone calls “Fun Bags”; and sees no problem watering crops nationwide with an energy drink — Brawndo, which actually exists — because “it’s got what plants crave: electrolytes.” Joe and Rita, two Einsteins in a world of Forrest Gumps, find a totally inept guide in Frito (Dax Shepard), who went to law school at Costco (only because his father, an alum, pulled strings). Joe’s brain catches the eye of the president, and soon he’s embroiled in a race to save himself from certain death in a prison smackdown by solving the whole country’s problems.

“Idiocracy” is such a comic gem that it’s difficult to know where the fun starts and ends. The endless parade of moronical characters is a joy to behold, with Shepard proving again his ability to play dumb is second only to Lisa Kudrow’s. Crews and his “cabinet” (including David “Michael Bolton” Herman) have a ball waxing dumb, and their spirit is catching. Running gags like the one about Brawndo — it’s got what (fill in the blank) crave — don’t get old because they’re so blatantly on point. Most crucial to the looniness is Luke Wilson as Joe, the quintessential no-frills Everyman. His shock and disgust at this world of Starbucks handjobs and Brawndo drinking fountains is muted enough to draw big laughs. And dread. For when the laughing stops, “Idiocracy” leaves us with a sense that not only is this future inevitable, it might be here already. Brought to you by Carl’s Jr., no doubt.

Grade: A