Review: 'RED 2' Brings Energy and Excitement to a Very Old Novelty
by Jeremy Kirk
July 19, 2013
A movie like RED 2 doesn't have to go through much effort to be an entertaining piece of film. With a cast that includes Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, the chemistry and dynamic between all the main characters seems somewhat built-in. The guns in their hands and the bullets whizzing by their heads is just an icing on this cake. Without even seeming to try all that hard, RED 2 ends up being loads more entertaining than its predecessor, giving us a constant barrage of bullets and fun actors seemingly having the time of their lives. At least Willis is smiling.
As with the first film, the one-time John McClane plays Frank Moses, the former CIA agent and hunter/killer extraordinaire who is now enjoying a peaceful retirement - RED stands for Retired and Extremely Dangerous - with his new girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). When his old "hunting" buddy, Marvin (Malkovich), informs him that there's a new contract out on both of their heads, Frank has to once again take up arms and bring the fight to the government agencies who would see him dead. Hilarity ensues. Fast-pace gun violence ensues. Old age crotchets ensue probably the hardest.
Director Dean Parisot (new to the series) and screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber (returning to their screenwriting duties from the first film) continue down the path of turning Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner's original comic book into something a little more family friendly. The PG-13 violence going on on the big screen never holds a candle to the darkness going on in the comic book pages. Fortunately, the fluidity between the first and second film is intact, and the returning players seem right at home turning on the charm, making with the laughs, and firing every gun at every bad guy in sight. Even the occasional pop-up of a veteran actor filling in as an eccentric, government spy - Zeta-Jones and a returning Brian Cox round out an already fine cast - seems more comfortable to this franchise than it does patent and uninteresting. It probably has something to do with how well all the actors are doing here. Scratch that. It definitely has something to do with that.
Parisot and the Hoeber Boys do a fine job keeping the pace always on the up and up here. The MacGuffin of a nuclear weapon Anthony Hopkins' crazy-old-man scientist developed is simply a device to keep the action going, and it goes pretty damn well. It always seems to work better than the comedy, but that falls to the reasoning RED 2 doesn't seem to be trying that much. There are only so many times Malkovich can say or do something awkward and almost indecent. Only so many times does Willis playing the overprotective/overbearing boyfriend to Parker's naive thrill-seeker result in genuine laughter. There are only so many shots of Helen Mirren looking absolutely stunning while doing something incredibly violent and/or dangerous before even those get old. It takes a lot longer for the thrill those shots bring to wear off. That woman gets more dangerous and awesome with each, passing year.
The paper-thin screenplay is noticeable, especially with all the action hitting the audience as fast as it does. There's very little breathing room at the top of each scene before something or someone crashes through a window or kicks down a door. We're told Moses has a history with Zeta-Jones' former, Russian spy as well as Byung-hun Lee's South Korean agent who is currently on a mission to take Moses out. There are a few laughs between Willis and Zeta-Jones, a few nicely placed punches between Willis and Lee, but the relationships just aren't there. Nowhere near, at least, where the camaraderie is among the returning cast. This is especially the case between Willis and Malkovich, who would both be amazing in some kind of buddy cop movie together. Perhaps Cop Out 2?
But Parisot's action is not only constant, it's fairly energetic given the characters' respective ages. While much of that is credited to the special effects and stunt team working here, both of which do fine jobs, its the energy the actors are bringing to their characters that really molds RED 2's charisma. Willis seems to be having a better time here than he did in the past two Die Hard and Expendables movies combined. Parker, adorable as she is, is even cuter filling Sarah's shoes. You actually can't wait until she gets to fire a gun. Malkovich and Cox are their same, campy selves, while Mirren is doing fine just playing Helen Mirren. Carrying big guns. Lee's physical prowess is as impressive as his emoting, and his comedic timing is pretty spot-on, as well. Hopkins plays a crazy old guy like he does best these days. Everyone seems to be having both a literal and figurative blast with this movie, and the excitement that bleeds into the actual film from that is difficult to deny and impossible to ignore.
RED 2 holds its head high playing the simpler, some would say dumber, but definitely more entertaining brother to the surprise hit original. It leads one to fantasy cast future installments of the franchise, imagining what veteran actors could show up and what weapons they'd be brandishing. The novelty of laughing at the elderly getting into massive gunfights and brutal fistfights has definitely worn off. Hell, that ship sailed halfway through the first RED. However, with a little chemistry and a lot of fun, RED 2 shows us that just because its old, that doesn't mean it's decrepit. On the contrary, RED 2 boasts a pretty lively group.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10