Movie Review: RED 2 (Summit)

One of the oldest (and occasionally most effective) techniques used by Hollywood to get butts in seats is stunt casting. Getting to see big stars on screen together, especially for […]


One of the oldest (and occasionally most effective) techniques used by Hollywood to get butts in seats is stunt casting. Getting to see big stars on screen together, especially for the first time, can arouse interest in a movie that might not get by on story or concept alone. For instance, 2001’s remake of OCEAN’S ELEVEN might have been successful based on concept and execution alone (as it was a very entertaining caper flick), but I’d bet a good percentage of its gross were dollars spent by people who wanted to see George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Julia Roberts on screen together, with Andy Garcia, Elliot Gould, and Carl Reiner thrown in to expand the demographic. In 2010, Sylvester Stallone put together an impressive cast of past and current action stars for THE EXPENDABLES, whose formula was repeated in 2012 with EXPENDABLES 2, which added some more stars into the mix (the cast list for EXPENDABLES 3 continues to grow, with Stallone collecting as many action stars as possible for the collective’s third go-around). One of those action stars, Bruce Willis, doubled down that year when he appeared in RED, a graphic novel adaptation that teamed Willis, playing a retired CIA operative, with fellow retirees played by past Oscar nominees and winners John Malkovich (who criminally doesn’t have an Oscar), Morgan Freeman, and Helen Mirren (I refer to RED as “the classy EXPENDABLES”). The image of the highly-respected, Oscar-winning Mirren holding a machine gun was practically all that was needed to sell the movie, though the prospect of watching Malkovich, Freeman, and Mirren squeeze off rounds and snappy dialogue was definitely a selling point. While Willis may seem out of place, it’s important to note that, while he is known primarily for his action roles, he has appeared in some highly acclaimed, award-nominated movies (PULP FICTION, 12 MONKEYS, MOONRISE KINGDOM, to name a few). His ability to play the tough guy role with some humor and pathos has always made him stand out, and made him the perfect choice to play Frank Moses in RED.

Just as last year brought us EXPENDABLES 2, this year brings us RED 2, an entertaining sequel that perhaps proves to be even more entertaining than its predecessor. We re-join Frank Moses in the most exciting and exotic of locales, a suburban Costco, where he is shopping with his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary Louise Parker). From the beginning, we can tell that returning screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber have not forgotten to keep the “comedy” in “action-comedy,” as we witness Moses’s excitement at domestication, an excitement not shared by Sarah, who apparently misses being chased and shot at. The Hoebers and director Dean Parisot, primarily a TV director whose biggest big-screen success was the great 1999 satire GALAXY QUEST, don’t waste any time reuniting old friends or starting up the action as Moses is reunited with his old pal and fellow retiree Marvin (reliably nutty and loveable Malkovich).

This time around, the pair is implicated in a 32-year old plot called “Nightshade” (one of the many moments in which the movie embraces its cliches), having allegedly planted a nuclear bomb in Moscow during the Cold War. They have no recollection of this but are being pursued internationally by the CIA, MI6, and eventually, the Russians. Moses is also being chased down by Han, a renowned killer-for-hire played by Korean actor Byung-hun Lee (GI JOE: RETALIATION). While being pursued, Frank, Marvin, and Sarah are also trying to find out what Operation Nightshade is, why they are being set up, and who is setting them up. Their search leads them to London, Paris, and Russia (the transitions are animated, a nice salute to the source material). Along the way they reunite with MI6 operative Victoria (Mirren, once again equally classy and badass) and connect with a former lover of Frank’s, Russian operative Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones, inexplicably playing a Russian using her native Welsh accent). Providing key information that leads the team to solve the mystery is the imprisoned scientist who developed the weapon, Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), who has gone a bit batty from his 32 years in captivity and has trouble remembering key details that could help lead Frank and Marvin to the weapon’s location.

As far as plot goes, that’s really all you need to know, especially to avoid ruining any of the movie’s cliched-yet-fun twists. What you do need to know is that the humor is kept light and the action is kept fast. What’s nice is that there are some good themes that are explored throughout the movie without getting in the way of the fun. From the beginning, we can tell that Frank and Sarah are having some trouble adjusting to life as a seriously involved couple, and the situations they are put in throughout the movie provide good opportunities to seamlessly incorporate this sub-plot. She wants to be involved and to help (she really wants to carry a gun), but he resists the idea of getting her involved. As the two are put in dangerous situation after dangerous situation, they explore this aspect of their relationship and are given advice by their cohorts (in between car chases and gun fights). The relationship aspect provides a nice emotional center to the movie without stalling the plot or the action, plus it provides ample opportunities for some amusing exchanges between Parker, Willis, and Malkovich. What’s nice is that, even when Sarah does get involved in the action, we never forget that she is not a trained soldier or agent and is a long way from fighting it out the same way Frank, Marvin, and Victoria do.

While RED 2 might not be a big tent-pole summer blockbuster that’s been hyped to death since last year, it provides what most multiplex-goers are looking for in a summer movie. It’s light, humorous, and loaded with great comic-book style action sequences (highlights being car chases in Paris and Moscow). It’s not quite as mindless as this summer’s FAST & FURIOUS 6, but not nearly as mired in philosophy and introspection as something like MAN OF STEEL (or even IRON MAN 3). The cast is dependable and extremely likable (in addition to the stars mentioned above, Brian Cox returns as Russian agent Ivan and David Thewlis pops up as an intelligence dealer nicknamed The Frog), and the writers and director embrace the cliches of the genre rather than trying to omit or ignore them. It’s an entertaining couple of hours, and if there is indeed a RED 3 on the way as well, I wouldn’t have a problem rejoining the team for another adventure.

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