DAVID GREENE, HOST:
"The Expendables 2" is kicking some you-know-what at the box office. It opened at number one over the weekend, though the more than $28 million it brought in fell short of industry expectations for the action flick. The movie is packed with gun play, car chases and memorable quips.
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JASON STATHAM: (as Lee Christmas) I now pronounce you man and knife.
GREENE: Ha, ha, ha, ha. There's also Arnold Schwarzenegger winking at "Terminator" with the line, I'm back. Hollywood screenwriter and MORNING EDITION commentator John Ridley saw the movie and found it, get this, thought-provoking.
JOHN RIDLEY, BYLINE: The acting is wooden, when it isn't just plain stiff. What plot there is is really just an excuse for mayhem. The dialogue is slaughtered by bad accents, both foreign and domestic. But "The Expendables 2" has easily been my summer's guiltiest of guilty viewing pleasures.
The pleasure comes from the undeniable nostalgic kick of seeing a collection of Hollywood's biggest action heroes partying like it's 1984. Among its top bill of one-name superstars - Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis - there's nearly 190 years of ass whoop on the silver screen and along with a certain cathartic thrill and a return to the pre-9/11 style of action movie storytelling, the days when the bad guys were Eurotrash and the good guys would punch first and quip later.
And in a present day nod to the realities of both modern combat and global box office, "Expendables 2"'s action sensibilities are liberally distributed among an international coalition of actors without regard to race, creed or even gender.
But as fun as all that is - and I'm sorry, it was fun - there's a sack full of emotional unease that comes with the show. The film is violent. Not graphically, but continually. It's perpetrated against an endless hoard of nameless, faceless actors seemingly hired for their ability to drop dead-like after taking a fake shot from a prop gun.
The message, if the film has one at all - more guns, more fun. And in a throwback, old school kind of way, yeah. But in the heart of the carnage, it's nearly impossible not to think of when big guns and cinema violence last met in the real world of Aurora, Colorado. Forget all the post-tragedy finger pointing between the gun lobby and the media coddlers, in "The Expendables 2" both sides of the divide set aside their differences long enough to join forces and make a tag team grab at the box office.
This odd and oddly at ease symbiosis was plainly evident at the film's Hollywood premiere when Chuck Norris made his onscreen cameo, a real life, unabashed, gun-toting conservative, entering frame at a stroll, wading through all the dead baddies he's just laid out to the hoots and hollers and enthusiastic applause of a theater filled with Hollywood's so-called liberal elites.
The running subtext between the aging action stars onscreen and their movie studio facilitators in the audience: Baby, where would I be without you? A question that requires more deep thought than most studio films truly offer up. And one which makes "The Expendables 2" the most unintentionally intellectually challenging film of the summer.
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GREENE: That's MORNING EDITION commentator and Hollywood screenwriter John Ridley. His most recent film, "Twelve Years A Slave," just finished shooting in New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.