‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new film RED 2 is a guilty pleasure. It features really good actors who all seem to have such a great time wiping out just about everyone else that it becomes a great popcorn film.
Afterward, you realize that a lot of people have been slaughtered and you’ve been laughing about it. That split may account for the large number of critics who have written negative reviews and then tossed in bits about how they liked one performer or another. The simplest thing to do is to consider the violence done simply “comic-book violence.” The major characters are remarkably unhurt even when facing down a half-dozen or more bad guys while creating major havoc.
Sequels often have problems because they wind up being repeats of the first. This is only partially true here. The first movie was one long joke on the full meaning of the title, “Retired, Extremely Dangerous,” describing retired CIA assassins being attacked because of a really old secret that has to be covered up. That is the same premise in the new film. Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) has more or less settled down with his adorable, slightly ditzy girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). Their old friend Marvin (John Malkovich) approaches them in Costco, warning them of impending attack because an agent nicknamed the Frog (David Thewlis) has named them as being part of a plot to plant a nuclear bomb in Moscow several decades earlier. Marvin is immediately blown up, and Moses is arrested by a particularly nasty government agent, Jack Horton (Neal McDonough). He escapes, wiping out a half-dozen people, and is reunited with Marvin, who, of course, had faked his death.
They chase around a lot and get reunited with Victoria (Helen Mirren), an old friend who casually tells them she has taken on a contract with Britain’s MI6 to assassinate them, the kind of work she excels in. Soon, they are also followed by contract killer Han (Lee Byung-Hun), Russian counterintelligence agent Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Victoria’s old boyfriend Ivan (Brian Cox). The action takes them through Paris and Moscow. This movie differs from the first, however, in the huge body count and the casual acceptance of killing by all the leads, often using them as laughs.
Willis is good as the strong, more or less fearless, hero who really has no idea how to deal with his girlfriend. Parker is a delight as Sarah, who wants to participate in all the fighting while having almost no talent at all for it. She is wonderful as she becomes the outsider, the one most of us can identify with. And, as all reasonably good movies do, she is forced to actually take part in the action, even though it looks like somehow she will mess things up.
Malkovich seems to have a great time in the film, although it looks as though director Dean Parisot did not quite know what to do with him. He wears crazy costumes, provides relationship advice (although he has yet to be seen having any kind of romantic relationship with anyone) and generally fills the role of the dumb sidekick.
Mirren knows how to play any kind of weird scene well. I particularly liked her portrayal of a mad queen for a few minutes, a tip of the hat to some of her former movie roles. Jones and Cox were good in roles that were limited.
Anthony Hopkins was particularly good as the eccentric mad scientist at the center of the plot. McDonough made a very effective obvious villain, the classic bureaucrat who will do anything.
The film was fun to watch. The actors all act up a storm and seem to have a good enough time that we relax and become willing to join the fun. Bureaucracies and paranoiacs make great villains. Perhaps the best moment in the film comes when Katya and the rest take out the torture tools to interrogate the Frog. Sarah gets a bit fluttery and starts begging the man to “be brave and give in.” Totally bemused, he gives up the key answers for her. Love can conquer all, but mostly it seems easier just to keep the guns firing.
It is a fun movie, not particularly worth paying big bucks for. This might be a better film to see on DVD, but if you like the theater, you will enjoy it even while paying your money.