Red 2 Review: The Old Devils Are At It Again, Who Knows What They'll Do
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Red 2 Review: The Old Devils Are At It Again, Who Knows What They'll Do

By TK | Film Reviews | July 19, 2013 | Comments ()


2010’s Red, based on the titular Warren Ellis graphic novel, was a fairly enjoyable romp, a goofy, ditzy diversion that focused on a group of retired government operatives who got drawn back into the world of intrigue and assassination. Hijinks most definitely ensued, and the film was a modest success thanks to some solid comedic performances by its veteran cast, sure-handed, workmanlike direction by Robert Schwentke, and a breezy, uncomplicated script. It was not the type of film I’d have guessed would garner a sequel, but Hollywood is a strange and unpredictable beast.

And thus, Red 2 is born. This time directed by Dean Parisot (Fun With Dick And Jane, Galaxy Quest), the sequel does little to deviate from the formula that made the original so enjoyable, and as a result is a fun, modestly exciting, occasionally hilarious summer flick that I can safely recommend, even as I acknowledge that the film isn’t particularly well-scripted or creative, and is unlikely to be particularly memorable. The plot is much the same — Frank (Bruce Willis) is still trying his hand at retirement, much to the chagrin of his action-starved girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), when he finds out that due to a series of nefarious machinations, a contract has been taken out on him. He’s once again joined by the madcap (though much more subdued this time around) Marvin (John Malkovich). He’s stalked by the world’s best assassin’s, including old friend Victoria (the always-luminous Helen Mirren) and Han (Byung-hun Lee), and encounters an oddball assortment of villains, criminals, weirdos and wackos, including Anthony Hopkins as a kooky genius, Catherine Zeta-Jones as the femme fatale from Frank’s past, and a brilliantly menacing Neal McDonough as the government spook hunting them down.

Though often entertaining, the film is rife with problems, a primary one being that its pacing is all over the place. It begins with a placid, dryly clever opening, then abruptly switches into a full-blown action movie. From there it’s simply a whirlwind of vignettes set in different international cities, each featuring its own quick moment of exposition and setup, quickly followed by increasingly silly, breathless action sequences, ad nauseum. Red 2 never bothers to stop and take in its surroundings, which means that a) a lot of stunning location scenery is shamefully wasted, and b) it’s hard to ever feel like there’s an actual plot since it keeps changing direction every 10 minutes. And there is a plot, even if it’s not a particularly inventive one — decades ago at the height of the cold war, the kooky genius developed a super weapon and people think Frank and company either know where it is, or that they have it and plan to use it. It’s a fast-and-loose script that collapses utterly under even the most cursory of inspection, and as a result the story never really feels like a story at all, but rather a series of ridiculous short films featuring the same actors.

And it’s truly unfortunate that it is so lazily scripted, because most of the actors do their best to inject a healthy amount of joy into the picture. Willis is a surprisingly charming combination of haggard, beleaguered, and lethal. Malkovich is suitably eccentric, though now with unexpected insight into Frank and Sarah’s relationship issues (which are the absolute least interesting part of the film). Hopkins is delightfully batty, Zeta-Jones is archly sexy and quite fun to watch, and smaller roles doled out to the likes of Brian Cox and David Thewlis create what can only be described as an embarrassment of riches, talent-wise. That said, there are three actors that absolutely steal the film: Neal McDonough, as a far more psychotic version of the archetype played by Karl Urban in the first film, is bloodthirstily engaging and I found myself looking forward to his scenes. Helen Mirren is once again one of the strongest parts, playing a cold-blooded, utterly badass killer with grace and style and a wickedly aristocratic air. But the greatest surprise was Byung-hun Lee’s Han. Lee has been blipping across radars for a while now, in everything from I Saw The Devil to The Good, The Bad, and The Weird to GI Joe: Retaliation. He’s devilishly handsome, graceful and smooth in his every move, and absolutely, viciously spectacular in a fight scene. What was most unexpected was how goddamn funny he can be, and his interplay with Willis and Mirren was a constant source of hilarity.

There is another assortment of nutty action scenes that round out the film, but the truth is that you’re not there to see the action so much as you’re there to see these actors and how they act in the midst of it. And perhaps that’s the fundamental flaw with the script — it doesn’t really work very hard. It throws together some rudimentary plot elements, a series of solid action setpieces, and then proceeds to let its actors do the heavy lifting. That tactic actually works quite well, simply because of the overflow of talent (except for Mary-Louise Parker, who I love generally but is a horrendous drag here), until the final third of the film when you start to realize that you know exactly how it’s going to play out and worse, you don’t particularly care. The joy of watching the actors play off of each other is certainly there, but the story itself is so vacuous (save for some genuinely snappy, quick-witted dialogue) that it gets quite frustrating. Is Red 2 fun to watch? I suppose so. I certainly laughed a good bit, and I enjoyed watching everyone play their parts. I just wished that the writers had done theirs as well.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Kathleen Allen

    i went to a matinee and snorted, giggled my way through. my friend deemed it a hoot and i can't argue with her. when naked byun hun lee is handed a kimono and he deadpans 'seriously?' it was one of my favorite scenes for several reasons not least of which was well, naked byun hun lee....and speaking of aging well....he's 43 years old. dear lord in heaven. (starts to hyperventilate)

  • cgthegeek

    Honestly? I just want to see women over the age of 40 kicking ass and taking names.

  • Salieri2


    I just think sometimes we need a reminder.

  • foolsage

    Well, some people might need a reminder. I am not among them. ;)

    There are rather a lot of pictures one might post, to demonstrate how lovely Dame Helen Mirren has always been and yet remains. Many of them are not safe for work.

  • emmalita

    Huh. I do not remember that costume. Of course, I haven't seen Excalibur since it first came out. My main take aways from the movie were 1) sex with men in full armor looked painful and hard to breath through, and 2) mordred's helm at the end.

    I've realized that I've melded that image with the image of a Mexican sun decoration in my head.

    I've also realized I'm typing under the influence of night time allergy meds and I need to stop.

  • foolsage

    Hollywood's idea of plate mail has always been deeply divorced from historical accuracy. Ouchies.

    The mask reminds me more of Apollo or Mithra than the image you posted, but I definitely see how the Mexican iconography is close too.

  • clancys_daddy

    "It was not the type of film I’d have guessed would garner a sequel, but Hollywood is a strange and unpredictable beast." Cost 60 million, gross worldwide $196,439,693. I would say Hollywood is extremely predictable.

  • Jim

    Do the math: Dame Helen + Weaponry = FUN!

  • the_wakeful

    I read this line "sure-handed, workmanlike direction by Robert Schwentke" as WOMANLIKE direction, and then spent 30 seconds trying to figure out what the fuck you meant by that. I was getting no clues from the context. I'm an idiot.

  • Drake

    Willis is a surprisingly charming combination of haggard, beleaguered, and lethal. Really? Because if that is surprising to you, you have a lot of "Die Hard" films to catch up on.

  • Yocean

    Ok, before you start blaming writers, can we consider the fact writers for studio movies are relentlessly replaced and demanded to make a safe movie by the studio execs, especially when they are writing sequels? I am a writer and we got hard enough job as it is, not to mention constant exploitation and marginalization of our craft. Imagine building a functional rocket under sea while your colleagues and limbs and good essential parts are being chomped off by sharks all around you. And the said sharks are the ones who take all the credits when you manage to make something good, and blame and tear you to shred for succumbing to their detraction and the rocket is never for you to take you to the stars and you are forever left to wade through the dark cold sea. Yeah, that's what's it's like.

  • Stellamaris2012

    yep, this is getting my 10 bucks this weekend - for Helen Mirren alone.

  • Fredo

    Red is a great Cinemax/TNT/there's-nothing-good-on-TV movie. It's light, it's funny and it doesn't insult you.

    If Red 2 is more of that, I'll be happy...when it's on TV come Christmas-time.

  • $27019454

    I just realized that I did see the first one; I cannot remember one gott damned thing about it. Is this due to the film's insubstantial and unmemorable plot? Or due to extracurricular, borderline illegal (just fucking legalize it already) activities? I guess I'll never know, because I am not going in for a second round (of the film). But I have one point to uh point out: Mary Louise Parker is Bruce Willis' girlfriend? I am not going to imdb this: Isn't he old enough to be her pervy great-uncle Brucie? Guh-ross. Why don't they just cast him opposite Dakota Fanning and call it even. Gag.

  • kinoumenthe

    I just saw it for the second time recently, and only about 20 minutes in did I recall having already seen it before. Weird.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I Wikipedia'd it - the age difference is "only" about ten years. Bruce isn't even sixty yet. It probably looks a lot worse on screen because Mary-Louise Parker looks a good ten years younger than she actually is.

  • $27019454

    Wow. In my brain I had her pegged at about 35. I had him pegged at about 77. I think (know) that this has so much more to do with my attention span than it does about either of these actors.

    Oddly, Malkovich has to be 172 years old (don't correct me; I am so very happy in my cocoon of soporific ignorance) but he'll always be Valmont to me.

  • emmalita

    I'm stealing 'cocoon of soporific ignorance.' Not your cocoon, I'll make (have made) my own. But I'm stealing the words. If I knew where you lived I'd send you $5, or start a grease fire in your kitchen for royalties.

  • $27019454

    You owe me nothing. My genius belongs to the universe at large.

  • Mixmastercereal

    He's 9 years older than her. Not a huge age gap, especially at 58 and 49.

  • $27019454

    Holy Cow. Seriously? Damn. My bad. She looks awesome. He looks well, 58. But for some reason, he seems longer in the tooth than that.


  • tatertot

    Just give Helen Mirren her own spin-off already!

  • lowercase_ryan

    Really looking forward to seeing McDonough in Lost Angels (if it ever comes out).

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