Release Date: July 19, 2013
Director: Dean Parisot
Writers: Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber (written by); Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner (characters)
Stars: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough
MPAA Rating: PG-13
It’s been a lackluster summer for blockbusters so far, but I was holding out hope that Red 2 would manage to recapture the fun of the 2010 original, offering up the same level of mindless fun. Sadly, it falls short of that bar.
I won’t pretend that Red was a life-changing film or anything, but as far as summer action films go, it had a certain je ne sais quoi that I found pleasantly surprising. From Mary-Louise Parker’s charmingly quirky performance to the well-constructed action sequences to the great chemistry its cast had with one another, Red is a film I find myself flipping to often when I’m scrolling through the cable channels on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Unfortunately, the magic is gone the second time around. Director Dean Parisot does his best to follow the blueprints laid out by Red director Robert Schwentke, but it isn’t the same. In fact, that’s a big part of the problem – the film tries so hard to stick to the formula of the first one that most of the time it just feels like a lazy retread. Jokes and dynamics that worked so well the first time around have diminishing returns in the sequel.
Like the first film, the story centers around Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired black ops CIA agent. Once again, a case Moses was involved in when he was an active field agent comes back to light in present day and the CIA decides the most prudent thing to do is to have Moses killed to protect the agency’s secrets. Moses and his girlfriend Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) travel across the globe with unhinged former CIA agent Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich). The trio try to uncover the secret that is worth taking their lives over while the CIA and several hired hitmen try to hunt them down.
Marvin was a fun character the first time around. The story goes that he was given a drop of acid every day while in the CIA as part of a long experiment, which has left him paranoid and a bit unstable. The enjoyable part of having a paranoid ex-CIA agent is that more often than not that paranoia is justified. But the problem with Marvin is that he’s a character who works best in small doses. With Morgan Freeman not returning to this film and Helen Mirren’s Victoria getting less screen time, Marvin is called upon to do the heavy lifting as a sidekick in this film and it just doesn’t work as well as it did when he was the guy off in the corner spouting the occasional funny line.
Similarly, the dynamic between Sarah and Frank feels off this time around. In the previous film, she was someone he harmlessly flirted with on the phone, but didn’t know very well. When his life was in danger, he figured out his phone had been tapped and knew she was in trouble, so he had to kidnap her to keep her safe. That led to some of the film’s biggest laughs as Frank attempted to convince her he was an ex-CIA agent and their lives were in danger, which is impossible to do without sounding unstable.
Obviously, this time around they can’t do that again because Sarah knows who he is and the two are dating. But what they decide to do instead is have Sarah be incredibly gung ho about getting out into the field and playing a spy and Frank feeling overprotective and trying to stop her from putting herself at risk. There are a few moments where this pays off (like Sarah’s unorthodox way of getting an enemy to let his guard down), but for the most part this plotline just fizzles out. I did really enjoy Parker’s performance though. She once again has an effortless charm and a quirky style that makes her a joy to watch on-screen.
Catherine Zeta-Jones also shows up as Katja, a Russian spy who Frank once dated and was then burned by. This leads to the well-worn story of Frank once again being suckered in by her charm and Sarah being jealous, which doesn’t really do any of the actors any favors. On top of that, Zeta-Jones’ accent in the film is bizarre and nothing that even closely resembles Russian. It’s bad to the point of being distracting.
The other additions to the cast are all highly enjoyable though. The fantastic character actor Neal McDonough shows up as Jack Horton, the ruthless CIA agent hunting down Frank and the gang. Byung-hun Lee is great as Han Cho Bai, one of the hitmen hired to take Frank out. And Anthony Hopkins has a small role late in the film that is also quite enjoyable.
The action scenes are fine, but unremarkable. There’s something always entertaining about watching Helen Mirren fire a weapon and Horton’s first encounter with Moses is a very well-constructed and fun scene, but other than that, the action stuff was mostly forgettable.
Which is sadly how I felt about the film as a whole as well. It’s not an unwatchable film, but it’s too much of a retread of the first film while lacking the charm and the fun that made that film so entertaining.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.