– Summary –
Director : Dean Parisot
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mary-Louise Parker, Byung-hun Lee, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, David Thewlis, Neal McDonough, Titus Welliver.
Approx Running Time : 119 Minutes
What we think : Starts well, slips over in the middle, and crashes into the barricade at the end. Uneven and lopsided, RED 2 has some good ideas, and a great cast, even if both elements are utterly wasted in this popcorn grinding fluff-flick, designed only to showcase that anyone can make an Ocean’s 11 film if they want to.
RED 2 represents Hollywood’s long-established precedent for putting aging stars into vehicles designed to showcase how “cool” they still are, regardless of the wrinkles or grey hair. Bruce Willis, his career in the creative doldrums ever since he decided not to give two shits about any of the films he signs up for, sleepwalks through yet another film, establishing that not only is he not interested, but he lacks respect for his fans. Thankfully, however, Willis is surrounded by eminently watchable stars, all of whom elevate this pedestrian story and plot into something at least marginally entertaining, of not entirely memorable. The original RED was a film I was largely unimpressed by, even though folks like Morgan Freeman made it passably entertaining, and I was left with the uncomfortable feeling that the film might be leading into a franchise -a franchise I thought would flame out quicker than it arrived. RED 2 does nothing to alleviate that fear, maintaining a high-energy-lark feeling about it that only papers over the problems Dean Parisot’s film contains.
While he’s trying to live a normal, non-secret agent life with his new girlfriend, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is approached by a ubiquitously paranoid Marvin (John Malkovich), who insists there are people after them. Frank’s wife Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) is trying to get Frank to teach her how to do the stuff he does, but Frank refuses. When the CIA sends a black-ops team to capture them, intent on hunting down a scientific experiment known as “Nightshade”, Frank, Sarah and Marvin become hunted fugitives. As they escape the grasp of CIA agent Horton (Neal McDonough), they find themselves the target of the assassins bullet, in the form of former student Han (Byung-hun Lee) and British associate Victoria Winslow (Helen Mirren). Breaking into a top-secret prison facility to extricate the inventor the Nightshade device, Dr Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), Frank and his friends soon learn that they must keep their eyes open for double-crosses and end-of-the-world stakes.
RED 2 arrives as a wildly uneven, hit-and-miss action/comedy mishmash, bereft of heart and cruising through its increasingly silly motions purely on the charm of its thunderously suave cast. Picking up just as the events of RED have faded into “what was that film about, again?”, RED 2 sees Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker engaged in barely concealed domestic bliss, before Malkovich’s paranoid ex-spy arrives to upset the applecart. There’s a vague hilarity to this scenario, mixed in amongst the constant push to find the danger in everything around the corner, and although the film doesn’t take this anywhere, it’s pleasant enough to begin with. Once the “action” and main plot of the film kicks in, RED 2 becomes a rather tiresome “secret squirrel business” flick, filled with spying, double agents, car pursuits and a bunch of National Interest double-speak. The plot, as ripe as it is, never amounts to a hell of a lot, delivering minor thrills derived primarily from seeing folks like David Thewlis as big Bad Guy characters in the most insane James Bond style.
Neil McDonough centralizes the Bad Guy efforts as a dedicated agent for the CIA. His angular menace and steadfast eye on the prize makes him a force to be reckoned with, even though he’s never in the hunt for Willis and Co, really. Willis, as mentioned earlier, looks almost the same as he does in the last five or six films he’s been in; bored and listless, simply going through the motions to pick up that paycheck. Honestly, I’m as bored watching him as he is being in these films. Mary-Louise Parker portrays Sarah with the schizophrenic bug-eyed kookiness of a seasoned pro, giving her all manner of tics and weird traits – enough to sink her character into almost a single-woman comedy routine. Malkovich has a blast reprising the role of Marvin, and has the majority of the better “moments” in the film. Newcomer Byung-hun Lee gives things an Asian flavor as Han, a character so flimsy in direction and subtlety – or personality, I must add – that it feels like he’s Generic Asian Assassin without any style. Oscar winner Helen Mirren provides the obligatory English unflappable agent character a jolly good show, and she’s about the most watchable one in the whole thing And lastly, Anthony Hopkins delivers a spittle-flailing ex-scientist prisoner with several screws loose, who has designed the bomb everyone’s looking for. Hopkins is good, but not even he can provide an adequate keel for all the trans-continental thrashing about.
Dean Parisot’s direction is workmanlike and superficially energetic. The script’s lite-weight underworld spy-vs-spy aesthetic is as generic as they come, a join-the-dots espionage-and-assassins actioner that barely makes the grade. To think, Parisot hit the zenith with his Star Trek parody, Galaxy Quest; no doubt he was hoping for a similar reception to RED 2, but with the action so disjointed and the plot so frequently underwhelming, like a poor man’s Mission Impossible, the film flounders when it should fly. The action sequences – in particular the vehicle scenes – are breathtakingly adequate, using the old filmed-in-slow-speed-and-sped-up-in-post stuff made (in)famous by Benny Hill. The copious gunfire and weaponry on display becomes a little tiresome after the fifteenth or so scene of yet more henchmen being mown down by our seemingly indestructible heroes, although it is well filmed by DP Enrique Chediak. Editorially, the film’s action sequences are ill-fitting, almost second-rate, with Don Zimmerman’s itchy cutting finger obviously trembling just a little too much on the “cut” button. On the plus, side, however, is Alan Silvestri’s wonderful score, which encompasses the best of Bond-esque smooth, and Hollywood-action cliche. It’s a toe-tapping, earworm kinda score.
RED 2 is a sequel so utterly contrived and insincere you get the feeling it was put together by a committee without worrying whether it actually made sense. The cast gamely do their best, as does Parisot with the script he’s given, but for all the journeyman-inspired, comic-book flash-bang style, RED 2 plays like a B-movie version of Ronin or Ocean’s 11. It’s disposable, heavily polished crap, although in saying that, if you enjoyed the original, you’ll probably find yourself smiling through this. Which says a lot, actually.