Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mary-Louise Parker, Byung-hun Lee
Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber, Cully Hamner (Characters), Warren Ellis (Characters)
There's more action than comedy to be found in Red 2, the follow-up to the somewhat surprisingly successful and far funnier Red. With the exception of John Malkovich, and as much as I love Malkovich I always worry a bit when he's a film's highlight, Red 2 is far more concerned with explosions and crashes than the offbeat and uncomfortable chemistry that largely made us really enjoy the first film.
It's interesting that Red 2 opens alongside R.I.P.D., a film that just so happens to be directed by the director of Red, Robert Schwentke. To add to the bit of a twist, Mary-Louise Parker is featured in both films and, in both cases, is one of the highlights.
Jon and Erich Hoeber continue to keep decent writers out of work by getting yet another chance after the atrociously penned flops Whiteout and Battleship, a particularly disappointment when you consider how rarely Hollywood even manages to distribute films for intelligent adults who want an actual story with adult characters and adult storylines.
The first Red mostly succeeded in being an entertaining film for adults, but Red 2 feels like a retread and it's particularly noticeable since lead Bruce Willis looks downright bored throughout much of the film. This time around, Frank (Willis) is trying to enjoy retirement alongside Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). Marvin (John Malkovich) shows up and tries to lure him out of retirement smack dab in the middle of a Costco, but Frank's not having it until a certain event causes Frank and Sarah to have to go off on the run. The two are framed for a Moscow-based mission gone awry called Operation Nightshade, and before long the trio heads off trying to prevent explosions. Helen Mirren returns as Victoria, while Catherine Zeta-Jones shows up as a Russian agent who tries to come between Frank and Sarah. Han (Byung-hun Lee), Frank's primary nemesis, is back and chasing Frank wherever he goes with the plan to kill him when he finds him. Then, there's Jack Horton (Neil McDonough), a government operative who is after Frank for reasons that are never completely obvious.
Red 2 is never completely awful, but what felt fresh the first time around now feels predictable and several characters, most notably Jack Horton, feel a step or two off pace throughout the film. John Malkovich saves nearly every scene he's in, though there are times the vast difference in energy between he and Willis drains the scene of its inspiration. Malkovich's paranoia is fully amped here, but opposite Willis's disinterested Frank it lacks the authenticity that would really bring it to life.
Anthony Hopkins, who can occasionally succumb to one-note roles, brings a spark of interest here despite being saddled with a criminally underwritten character from Frank's CIA days. Catherine Zeta-Jones also has some delicious scenes, especially those opposite Brian Cox. Mirren also turns in her usual dependable performance.
While Red 2 may just be bad enough that we may never be faced with Red 3, I have the feeling should a third one come around that Robert Schwentke won't be busy making R.I.P.D. 2. On the other hand, maybe both films should simply be allowed to rest in peace.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic