When Red came out in the fall of 2010, it fed right into audiences’ appetite for aging stars kicking ass. After all, this was the same season that saw the release of The Expendables, another big action movie featuring aging stars. But unlike the Sylvester Stallone shoot-em-up, Red transcended its action roots with a witty conceit, funny script, and an appealing A-list cast, all which helped it become an effortlessly enjoyable word-of-mouth smash.
Now, three years later comes the sequel no one asked for, and by my estimation, no one will remember, save for the poor souls who endure it. More than just an underwhelming sequel, Red 2 is also the laziest crash grab to come out of Hollywood since this spring’s A Good Day to Die Hard. Everything that made Red endearing is grating this time around. The jokes are unfunny sitcom-level piffle, the action is sloppy, the pacing is laborious, the acting is flat-out lazy, and the narrative is, well, a model of incoherence.
As far as I could decipher, the film revolves around still retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), his daft girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), and best bud Martin Boggs (John Malkovich) being chased around the world by corrupt government types. Apparently, Frank and Martin were unwittingly involved in transporting a nuclear device during the Cold War for some bad guys, and now said bad guys want to cover their tracks. Since the Americans prove to be too inept at killing Frank, Martin and Sarah, they hire a Korean master assassin named Han (Byung hun-Lee) to hunt down the trio. As if things weren’t already convoluted, MI6 sends in Victoria (Helen Mirren) to kill them too.
Between hopscotching from New Orleans to London to Moscow to Paris for no better reason than to blow things up, they run into a bunch of respected thespians, all trading in their reputation chips for a quick buck. David Thewlis plays a sniveling master spy cum wine-connoisseur. Brain Cox reprises his role from the first film as a pervy KGB agent with a fetish for Helen Mirren’s feet. And Catherine Zeta-Jones cameos as an orange-skinned KGB operative who has a history with Frank. This detail means that somewhere down the line, Parker and Zeta Jones will be reduced to sexist caricatures who have to fight each other for Frank. Yes, this is that kind of Neanderthal movie.
All this could be forgivable (I’m reaching here) if the comedy, acting and action were at least up to par. Unfortunately, that’s a wash-out too as the languid direction by Dean Parisot (replacing Robert Schwentke) castrates the film off any sense of urgency or stakes. Remember how we felt afraid for the lives of these old but tough guys in the original? There’s nothing of that sort in this movie. Willis and Malkovich are virtually indestructible killing machines – sort of like John McClane in the last Die Hard– just with added eccentricity.
Malkovich, who was my favorite part of the original film, is reduced to an annoying quip machine this time around, brandishing weird outfits that are supposed to be funny but only come off stupid. Even Parker, so wonderful in the first film, comes off as an annoying idiot this time around. As for Willis… well, he’s Bruce Willis. And that’s all to say about that. Only Sir Anthony Hopkins, who plays a mad scientist by way of Merchant Ivory, brings some levity to this pancake movie with a delightful performance as the man who holds the key to the whole cockamamie show. But by then, it’s all for naught. Red 2 is a rancid turd; it’s the type of movie you get stuck with while you’re trapped in line at the DMV for hours on end. It’s Jury Duty.