No need for wardrobe ... just come as you are.
Director: Dean Parisot
Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Byung Hun Lee and Catherine Zeta-Jones
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.
The cinematic equivalent of a retirement community theater, RED 2 is full of performers going through their paces, just happy to playact bygone glory. As long as the production is respectable, a good time can still be had by all. Such is not the case with RED 2, a movie that manages to be both lurching and lumbering in service of a storyline that’s as somnolescent as its senior citizen stars.
I didn’t particularly care for RED, but its kitschiness was occasionally complemented by a comforting cheerfulness. Its sequel, on the other hand, begins illogically and gets even more confusing. Ex black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is trying to live the quiet retired life with his wife Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), full of days shopping at Costco and nights of solitude. But he’s lured back into action when old pal Marvin (John Malkovich) is killed. Well, not really—it’s part of a ruse to confuse a band of government jackboots who think Frank and the rest of his “retired, extremely dangerous” compadres know the whereabouts of a nuclear device snuck into Russia during the Cold War.
Why wouldn’t the agents just ask Frank and co. where the device might be instead of trying to immediately torture or kill them? Why do Frank, Marvin and a suddenly thrill-seeking Sarah figure the best plan of action is to globetrot from France to England to Russia in order and retrieve the device themselves, and where do they get the money to do so? What kind of hairstyle and Michael Jackson-esque uniform is Catherine Zeta-Jones sporting as Katja, a Natasha-style Russian agent?
So little makes sense from one scene to another that you begin to seek enjoyment exclusively in the performances and byplay. Alas, the bulk of the humor boils down to lunkheaded one-liners punctuated by repeated reaction shots of a bemused Malkovich (mirroring the audience, no doubt). Willis is joyless, while Parker’s tonally schizophrenic. It’s nice to see Anthony Hopkins flash his metaphorical fangs again, but Dean Parisot’s (literally) bloodless direction makes little use of it—after Hopkins’ mad scientist Dr. Bailey shoots and slashes the throat of three people, he coyly quips, “Sorry about the carpet,” even though not a drop of blood is visible.
There are only two things that make RED 2 passingly palatable. The first is Byung Hun Lee, formerly the star of the hit 2009 South Korean espionage TV series Iris and here playing a contract killer hot on Frank’s trail, whose martial arts action and dashing good looks convince me he’s a Hollywood action star in the making. The other is Helen Mirren, reprising her role as an aging British assassin who is as fetching as she is dangerous. Mirren gets the overall joke and plays it with breezy aplomb, whether it’s dousing acid over a dead mark while wearing an evening gown and carrying on a casual cell phone conversation, or firing handguns out both sides of a spinning sports car driven by Lee. If only the rest of RED 2 embraced its inanity, instead of exacerbating it.