By Will Ashton
Red was a fine film. It wasn’t earth shattering, but it was entertaining, well directed and had a solid cast. It was fun, nothing more and nothing less.
Nobody, as far as I could tell, was clamoring a sequel. But, hey, worse films have gotten them, so why not? If Grown Ups 2 can exist, I guess there can be room for another Red movie.
So now there’s a Red 2 in this world. Sure, there was nothing in the original story that really needed to be told still, but it shouldn’t be too hard to recreate some of the fun of the first movie.
The sequel returns us to almost everyone from the first movie. Besides Morgan Freeman, Karl Urban and Ernest Borgnine (R.I.P.). But those reasons, more or less, make sense. There’s no foul play. But it hurts that they were among the better characters in the first movie. Anyway, in this installment, Frank (Bruce Willis) is still attempting to live a safe and normal life with his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). In fact, he’s trying extra hard to make sure their life together is safe, as he fears that his past life will continue to put them both in danger.
But, not long after he attempts to settle down does he learn that Interpol is hunting him down. As he attempts to clear his, and his friend Marvin’s (John Malkovich) name, he gathers knowledge that a Cold War project to sneak a nuclear weapon into Russia may continue. In order to save the day, he and his ragtag team of heroes have to go to the source and find a way to stop them from destroying the world.
In a summer that has remained largely in between average and mediocre, Red 2 doesn’t strain too far from the path. It’s definitely not the worst movie that I have seen thus far this season, but it lacks anything that special, engaging or memorable. While the first movie wasn’t particularly memorable either, it was engaging and well made. Red 2 isn’t even that, really.
Replacing director Robert Schwentke, who was off making R.I.P.D., which, coincidentally (or maybe not) is coming out the same day as Red 2 and also features Mary Louise Parker, this time around is Dean Parisot, best known for Galaxy Quest. With that film, you could tell that Parisot had a talent for crossing comedy and action. And, to his credit, the two forms mesh pretty well together. It’s just that neither are particularly well done.
The comedy, thanks to a rather lackluster script by Jon and Erich Hoeber, rarely ever sticks the landing. The action, while better than the comedy, is often so choppily edited that, despite some solid set pieces, the scenes are rarely ever exciting or engaging. There are some decent action scenes, like a car chase almost halfway into the film in Europe, but nothing to really compete to anything that we have already seen in Man of Steel or Star Trek Into Darkness.
At this point, it’s a wonder why Willis bothers to make movies at all, besides the obvious reason. It seemed like he was turning himself around, given his solid performances in Moonrise Kingdom and Looper last year. But now, between A Good Day to Die Hard and this, he seems to be reverting back to Cop Out mode. He fails to give any emotions in Red 2 that feel real or sincere, and, as a result, he weighs the film down from the spunkiness that it needs to survive.
Even some of the elements that present from the first movie don’t take off this time. Malkovich, easily the funniest character in the original Red, tries the best with what he’s got, but can’t save himself from a script that doesn’t give him anything funny to do. Parker, while charming the first time around, is now loud, whiny and pretty annoying. Plus, some of her natural charisma is lost in what appears to be extreme plastic surgery in between films. What a shame.
Thankfully, Helen Mirren performance remains as sharp as before. Her delightfully dry delivery and comedic timing often make some stale material way more satisfying than it should be. But, perhaps the best performances in the film are found from newcomers (in this series, at least) Anthony Hopkins and Neal McDonough.
Early on in the film, McDonough is given a juicy little monologue. The words themselves, if given to a weaker actor, may have come across as corny. But, when delivered by McDonough, with the naughty little twinkle of devious glee in his eye, are pure evil.
Quite frankly, the movie needed more moments like this. Or, more directly, it needed more McDonough. With his introduction to the film, we are given a delightfully evil villain that finds himself mercilessly killing innocent people just to find what he is looking for. After this promising start, however, the movie drops him quicker than a $200 bet in Vegas.
I would be more disappointed had the film not introduced Anthony Hopkins into the mix. Since his character is introduced about midway into the film, I’ll avoid going too far into his role. But his performance, undoubtedly, is one of the few saving graces of this film. It continues his recent trend of being good in not so good movies. Which, again, is a shame. But it is always nice to see a veteran actor work his magic, no matter what. Also, while his role is very short, Brian Cox, as always, is pretty wonderful here in the little amount of time that he is given.
Sequels are never easy. Red 2 isn’t the worst sequel this summer, but it sure isn’t the best one either. It’s never terribly dull, and, much like the first one, carries a sense of humor about itself that proves that the movie is not taking things too seriously. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t laugh along with the joke like we were the first time. By the end, it amounts to a big shrug. It’s a sequel so drenched in mediocrity that it’s hard to find anything about it that deserves any real merit until go home and wait until you’re back at the movies again.