A film review by Craig J. Koban August 2, 2013

RED 2 jj
 

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

RED 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.  

Based 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. 

On 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. 

After 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.

 

 

Now, 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?

There 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 weapon. 

RED 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. 

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