Dir. by Dean Parisot - 1 hr. 56 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
There is one particular reason that I often enjoy sequels as much as the first installment in a franchise: the introductions are out of the way, and the film can just go ahead and tell a story without trying to figure out ten different "meet cutes." So, as much as the first "Red" was surprisingly enjoyable (the comic book source material was very, very slight, and the movie rounded things out in positive way), it's nice to get down to the business of just telling a story with those characters. On the flip side of that, once you start adding numbers after the title, there's got to be a reason for each particular story to exist on a big screen and as an isolated, infrequent event, and not just be a really good episode of a TV series.
Frank (Bruce Willis) and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) have settled into domesticity (displayed here by a trip to Costco), although it seems that Sarah isn't as into it as Frank is. Marvin (John Malkovich) pops up in an aisle to warn Frank that all three of them have been turned into targets, on the basis of a mission back in the 1970's that went astray. Frank blows him off, but then Marvin's car blows up in the parking lot, so he kind of has to take Marvin at his word. And when highly-skilled people start coming after Frank, he's forced to try to get to the bottom of things, which involves a lot of world-wide travel and spies trying to outwit one another.
Probably the best thing about "Red 2" is that it's kind of turned into a buddy movie between Frank and Marvin, and now Sarah wants to join in on the fun. Mary-Louise Parker isn't playing a kidnap victim here, she's not content with being protected and staying in the car. That shift is very welcome, not only because I'm half in love with Parker, but because she adds a different element to what can be a very macho profession. Honestly, she's got all the best acting material in the movie, from frustration at not being allowed to play with everyone else, to enjoying the thrill of accomplishing something risky, to outright jealousy of Catherine Zeta-Jones' Russian spy character. Bruce Willis pretty much glides along with that look of his, where he can't quite believe what the other people around him are doing, and John Malkovich gets all of the best lines, but mainly because he's a little brain-damaged here. If that sounds a little by-the-numbers, well, it's only the second movie in the franchise, so it's okay to ride the established dynamic for a little while. And seeing these actors slip into the roles with ease is one of the joys of watching the film.
Some of the other characters don't have as much to do, although watching Victoria (Helen Mirren) and Ivan (Brian Cox) getting some rare alone time, and being completely over the moon to be in each other's company is a lot of fun. Anthony Hopkins gets to show up and be Anthony Hopkins, which works. The best of the new characters is Han (Byung-hun Lee), who is hired to come after Frank. He starts off as a typical super-serious Asian assassin (Korean, to be specific), but by the end of the film has evolved into a fun character, one I'd like to see more of. I don't think I'd seen him before, but looking at his filmography, his work here almost makes me want to watch the "G.I. Joe" movies.
But while "Red 2" is an enjoyable ride (I mean, if you liked the first, I'd be surprised if you found the sequel not to be up to par), that pesky TV show/movie dilemma raises it's head. Probably the biggest reason "Red 2" couldn't be a TV show is the cast; I find it unlikely that anyone could fund this cast for a season of a TV show, and roughly 90% of the appeal to these movies is the chemistry between these specific actors. But it terms of what is actually presented, I didn't find a compelling reason to get to the theatre (I saw this at a second run theatre) and throw down my hard-earned Hamilton to check it out. What I ended up seeing was enjoyable, and I'd be ready to see a third installment if things come to that (and if Mary-Louise Parker is part of it), and I don't have any large complaints about the film. It's solid entertainment with a good cast and stuff blowing up, and it's a more charming movie than many spy/action movies are. It also feels content with being charming and a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours, and not much more.
2.5 / 5 - Theatre