Film Review – RED 2
In 2010, Summit Entertainment scored a surprise hit with their comic adaptation RED, a story about a group of older former spies (RED = Retired Extremely Dangerous) getting thrown back into the action. The film looked hokey from the trailers, but ended up being quite charming, with a nice blend of comedy and action, aimed at a demographic outside of the traditional 18-35-year-old males. Ultimately earning almost $200 million worldwide, it surprised nobody when a sequel, RED 2, was greenlit.
Returning are writers Jon & Erich Hoeber, who have brought with them the classic Hollywood approach of “more,” as if amping up everything in a sequel is automatically improvement. After failing with both Whiteout and Battleship, RED felt like even more of a fluke for the writing team, so RED 2 is a regression back to the mean. Regardless of their track record, with RED 3 already announced, unless something goes terribly wrong at the box office, it shows how safe of a bet Summit thinks the RED franchise is.
The story picks up where the last movie left off. Frank (Bruce Willis) is trying to live a normal life with his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). Despite his best intentions, she misses the excitement and adventure they experienced. Much to her delight, Frank and Marvin (John Malkovich) are sucked back into the thick of things, as they are blamed for a nuclear weapon that was smuggled into Moscow many years earlier. In order to clear their names and keep the weapon being used, they must go on a globetrotting adventure to save the day, reuniting them with many friends and foes.
While RED 2 is not the carbon copy that, for example, The Hangover Part II was, the parallels with the first film are striking. Once again, this elite group of retirees is brought into action after they are being hunted, and once again everyone in the world seems to doubt their abilities because they are older. Snooze. You can probably guess most of the plot turns based on seeing the trailer alone. It’s a shame, too, because now that these fun characters have been created, the filmmakers shouldn’t be so afraid to let them develop in any sort of meaningful way. Every scene feels like an Etch-A-Sketch—there is some build-up, but by the next scene, the slate has been wiped clean. It’s too easy to tune out for ten minutes and still completely understand what’s going on.
Taking over the director duties is Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest, Fun with Dick and Jane), and he seems to be trying recreate the original by striking a balance between quirky comedy and action thriller. But by exaggerating the quirkiness, he deflates any attempt to add suspense with the increased action. There are no stakes in this movie; at no point do you feel like the heroes are ever really in danger. This is a change from the original, where a death was one of the twists that made the story enjoyable, because it played upon expectations that everyone on the RED team was untouchable. Additionally, because this story tries to be tricky about who the villain is, the plot ends up feeling very segmented. It jumps from scene to scene purely to hit certain plot points, without a smooth build to the end. The moments between set pieces are sorely lacking.
The biggest problem with RED 2 is with stars Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker. Sure, they have cute moments, but they are the most vanilla of characters, and unfortunately they are front and center. By the end, I had essentially tuned out their relationship quibbles. This is in stark contrast to co-stars like Helen Mirren and John Malkovich, who seem to revel in their characters. Willis, despite his efforts to loosen up, still feels like some variant of John McClane from Die Hard. He already played the quirky domesticated former assassin a decade ago in The Whole Nine Yards and its sequel…this schtick is stale. Additionally, the CGI in the movie is underwhelming; clearly, the budget was spent on the name talent. For a film that sells itself as an action comedy, it was surprising to see some of the effects looking so cheap. But as long as comedy is able to make up for the action shortcomings, that isn’t going to be a problem…sadly, that isn’t the case here. Thankfully there are some fun stunts that help compensate for this problem.
On the other side, one of the most surprisingly enjoyable elements was Byung-hun Lee as Han, an assassin with a grudge against Frank. With the exception of I Saw the Devil, this is the first time I’ve seen him outside of the G.I. Joe franchise. He is clearly a skilled action star, but it was also fun to see him get to do a little bit of acting by joining in the witty banter. Unfortunately, his time in the film is fairly limited (as is the case with most of the new additions, like Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins). But he makes a very positive impact when he is on screen. On a side note, there is some devious pleasure in seeing Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins on screen together for the first time; Hannibal Lectors of the world, unite.
RED 2 is comfort food. It’s safe and easy to watch, it has moments that are enjoyable, but you ultimately feel a little gross for having watched it later. Almost everything likeable from RED has returned, but it lacks that original spirit, like a knock-off that someone else produced. There are worse movies you could spend your time watching, but I’m not sure that’s a good justification to see this one.
Final Grade: B-