A film review by Craig J. Koban August 2, 2013
2013, PG-13, 116 mins.
2013, PG-13, 116 mins.
Bruce Willis as Frank Moses / Mary-Louise Parker as Sarah Ross / Helen Mirren as Victoria / John Malkovich as Marvin Boggs / Catherine Zeta-Jones as Miranda Wood / Anthony Hopkins as Bailey / David Thewlis as The Frog
Directed by Dean Parisot / Written by Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber
2 is a decidedly ho-hum sequel to its equally ho-hum 2010 antecedent, a
film that – despite some of its inherent charms – never fully screamed out for immediate sequel treatment.
on the limited comic book series of the same name by Warren Ellis and
Cully Hamner, RED concerned the status of
ex-CIA operatives that were “Retired” and “Extremely Dangerous” and
that were forced to come out of their cozy retirements and back into
service to face off against nefarious foes.
The first film scored points alone for its well-assembled cast of
actors in their twilight years and had some modest fun placing them in
action sequences typically reserved for those 30-years younger.
Alas, the promising premise of the film never gelled to its
fullest comedic heights, not to mention that its over-plotted script kind
of meandered around too much and suffocated the film’s potentially
strong satire. RED 2, in a
way, is very much more of the same, and even though it does recapture some
of the spirited cheekiness of the first film, it somewhat fails at doing anything
new with the underlining material in terms of taking it in refreshingly
novel directions. This is more like RED-REDUX than a true sequel.
a positive, RED 2 has a bit more of a globetrotting storyline that
takes the characters from America to Paris and then all the way to the
Kremlin to deal with an old Cold War-inspired menace.
It also reunites the old likeable gang of geriatric uber spies,
like Bruce Willis' hard-hitting Frank Moses; his bomb-loving BFF, Marvin
Biggs (John Malkovich); his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker); and an
ex-MI6 field agent, Victoria (Helen Mirren), a woman whom, despite her
apparent physical frailty, can’t still wield a machine gun with the best
of them. In
the beginning of the film Frank is trying to live a life of relative
normalcy with Sarah, but his old semi-delusional and kooky pal Marvin shows
up and warns him that enemies are still afoot and want him and everyone
else associate with him dead.
discovering that he has been framed by a vile government agent (Neal
McDonough), Frank also learns that a nuclear weapon that went missing
decades earlier has turned up in Russia, with its creator - a scientist, locked up in
an insane asylum - Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) being the key to
finding its whereabouts. Even
worse, Frank has a new contract out on his head so large that an old friend
Han (Lee Byung-hun) is now hunting him, and since he is the
“greatest contract killer in the world,” he is more than a thorn in
Frank’s side. When not evading the lethal assassination attempts of Han,
Frank and company trek to various parts of the globe in search of the
weapon, re-teaming in the process with their old pal Victoria while also hooking back up
with an old flame of Frank’s, Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who’s
overt sexual advances on her former lover makes Sarah more than a bit hot
under the collar.
I can certainly understand the underlining appeal of this material and the
characters contained within. It’s
kind of a giddy trip to see a cast of seasoned middle-aged (and some
older) stars engaging in chases, fisticuffs, gun battles, etc. at a time
in their lives when most of them should be in retirement homes.
Even though his role is of no stretch for him (not to mention that
he’s perhaps too young to be in the same company as his older co-stars),
Willis seems a bit more spry and game this go around, and he has some sly
and snappy scenes with Mary-Louise Parker, whose Sarah seems unhealthily eager
at times for a piece of the spy action.
Malkovich – as a former LSD-experimental guinea pig – can
play loveable lunacy in his sleep. Helen
Mirren is infectiously delightful playing her refined Brit agent that can
unleash a bounty of kick-ass on her opponents when they least expect it.
She occupies the film’s funniest scene when she acts like a
lunatic to get into the insane asylum that Bailey is in; she claims to be
Queen Elizabeth II. Get it?
are a few other pleasures to be derived here, like an-all-too-brief moment
when Hopkins and Brian Cox (who returns to play the Russian spy Ivan)
share screen time (two former movie Hannibal Lectors for the price of
one!). Hopkins’ bat-shit
crazy Bailey is a character that – when introduced – will have viewers
recall his staring turn in the SILENCE OF THE LAMBS; when we first see him
he has been locked away in his cell for the last 30-plus years, but not for
being a cannibal. He
developed the special nuke – dubbed “Nightshade” – that everyone
in the film wants, but seems to escape everyone’s grasps.
I also appreciated Byung-hun Lee's assassin, who displays a limitless
dexterity and martial arts creativity that would make a Jackie Chan in his
prime blush with envy. Lee
has a devilish moment when he kills someone with a small piece of paper
origami and later shows how a paint can being kicked doubles as a lethal
2 was directed by GALAXY QUEST helmer Dean Parisot, and that film was a
scream for how it spoofed STAR TREK and the Trekkie cult of fandom.
I guess I was kind of hoping that he could have infused in RED 2 a
bit more of a satirical edge with the funny-on-paper notion of old farts
taking names and kicking tail. Regrettably, his film seems more akin to obligatory and
rudimentary – and largely bloodless and friction-free - action sequences
and would-be funny sight gags that never seem to generate any sort of pulse of
intrigue or hilarity on their own. It’s
not helped when the film sort of builds towards a climax that involves –
you guessed it – a bomb with a ticking digital time clock that will
unleash Armageddon if not dismantled by the heroes in time.
It’s one thing for a film to engage in overused and lame visual
clichés that we have seen in countless action films before, but it’s
almost more disenchanting to see heavyweight acting thespians like Hopkins
play in highly contrived moments like this.
He certainly appears to be having fun, but the material and scenes
he occupies seem utterly beneath his esteemed talents.
One thing kind of dawned on me more than anything while watching RED 2: There are so many multiple Oscar winning and nominated performers here that are just kind of perfunctorily slumming it, albeit rather enjoyably (although, Zeta-Jones' one-note written character could have been excised from the film altogether). RED 2 has a laid-back aura of tongue-in-cheek whimsy about it, but its overall plot seems both too intricately complicated and too haphazardly written at the same time, not to mention that it never really establishes a sense of building upon or trying to do something delectably different with the material from the first film (which, to be fair, all good sequels should aspire to do). RED 2 is not so much a terrible sequel as it is a wasted opportunity for a sequel, one that does recapture some of cheerful silliness of the first film, but nonetheless seems like it's just dutifully spinning its wheels too much for its own good. The film is breezy and lightweight, but a forgettable and throwaway B-grade entertainment.
Then again...so was RED 1. Been there, done that.