Red 2 (United States, 2013)

July 18, 2013
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Red 2 Poster

I'm not sure whose idea it was to turn Red into a movie franchise. The first film, based on the DC Comics graphic novel, was an enjoyable throw-away, but there was nothing about the movie or its modest box office success that cried out for a second installment. The existence of Red 2 is therefore something of a surprise; sitting through it is nowhere near as enjoyable as the experience of watching its predecessor. Much of what felt fresh and fun in Red has turned stale in the sequel and it doesn't help that the storyline, a James Bond rip-off/satire is written at a level where sixth graders would be able to point out some obvious and irritating narrative flaws. One doesn't expect to see Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, and John Malkovich mired in such a stupid plot.

The movie reunites the group of AARP superspies we first encountered in 2010's Red (with the notable exceptions of Morgan Freeman, whose character died, and Ernest Borgnine). So we have retired kick-ass specialist Frank Moses (Bruce Willis); his best buddy, Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich); his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker); and his ex-MI6 compatriot, Victoria (Helen Mirren). Joining them are three notable newcomers: sexy Russian military officer Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), confused diabolical scientist Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), and the world's best contract killer, Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee). They're all thrown together into a mix that has them moving from one country to the next about every five minutes with a somewhat unremarkable payoff that involves keeping a suitcase nuclear bomb from blowing up.

The storyline gets a lot of mileage out of being confusing because the lack of coherence distracts viewers from realizing how moronic the whole thing is. The ending is a perfect example: the big "trick" is so obvious it's impossible to accept that the super-smart bad guy didn't figure it out. (He even quips, "I didn't see that coming.") Much earlier, a faked death is so well executed that the filmmakers feel no need to explain how the "fakery" is accomplished. The reason is obvious: there's no way any explanation would be remotely plausible. So they don't bother to explain it. That's just lazy screenwriting. Give the audience some credit for intelligence. Is that asking too much?

The action scenes in Red 2 are a weird amalgamation of old-school stuff and Fast & Furious over-the-top, physics-defying material. There's more of the former than the latter (largely, I assume, for budgetary reasons), although there's a significant helicopter crash from which two characters emerge unscathed. Those in search of an adrenaline rush won't find it here. The gunplay, chases, and fight scenes are choreographed with a PG-13 sensibility, which means they're mechanical, largely bloodless, and not especially exciting. It's possible to tell that director Dean Parisot has been spending a lot of time in television lately (it has been nine years since his last theatrical feature and fourteen since he made Galaxy Quest). Everything about this movie feels like it was made for TV, from the shot selection to the poor use of widescreen to the choppy editing.

There are some high points, to be sure. As an action/comedy, Red 2 may be unsatisfying on the "action" side but it at least partially compensates with its "comedy." Although the novelty factor of seeing old, respectable geezers hoisting big guns was used up in Red, there's still something amusing about watching Oscar winners like Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins wandering around in Bruce Willis territory. The repartee between Willis and Mary-Louise Parker is sharp and John Malkovich gets his share of nice scenes and snappy one-liners. The overall feel of Red 2 is breezy although the lugubrious storyline makes it seem longer than it needs to be.

It's hard to argue that Red 2 is especially worse than many of the other intelligence-deficient, action-oriented motion pictures of the summer of 2013, although it's certainly not up to the level of the original Red. The film has its charms but the end result feels like warmed-over James Bond… and not even especially good 007, at that.

Red 2 (United States, 2013)

Run Time: 1:52
U.S. Release Date: 2013-07-19
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1