March 2021

Red 2 (2013)

DIRECTOR: Dean Parisot

CAST: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung-hun Lee, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, Brian Cox


While 2010’s Red was an enjoyable enough, if ultimately forgettable diversion, that had more to do with the B-level material inexplicably attracting a high-powered ensemble of respectable elder thespians that kicked it up a notch.  Neither its small charms nor its modest box office success particularly cried out for a sequel, but here we are.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Red 2 lacks what little freshness the first film possessed, and while the sight of Helen Mirren handling heavy weaponry still has some amusement, it’s not as novel as it was in 2010.  Red 2 is a moderately enjoyable diversion, but the relative freshness has evaporated, and like many an unneeded and uninspired sequel, this has the feel of warmed-over leftovers.

Following the events of the first film, retired CIA assassin Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) have settled into lovey-dovey domestic bliss (maybe too much so for a bored Sarah) until old friend Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) pops up to warn Frank that they’ve again been targeted in connection to an operation in their past, one that’s put them in the crosshairs of everyone from their old friend MI6 assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren) to shady CIA agent Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) to “the best contract killer in the world” Han (Byung-hun Lee) who has an old grudge against Frank.  The ensuing twisty-turny international journey leads them to information broker The Frog (David Thewlis), into a reunion with Frank’s Russian military officer ex Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones) that doesn’t sit well with Sarah, and eventually into breaking out imprisoned and possibly mad scientist Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) and breaking into the Kremlin and the Iranian embassy.

Red 2 is not as efficiently-plotted as Red, and Frank/Marvin/Sarah’s trekking from Paris to Moscow to London feels a little meandering.  There’s a whole ensemble of bad guys and untrustworthy “allies” running around, including Horton, Han, Katja, The Frog, and Bailey, and Katja in particular, while played by a suitably slinky and femme fatale Catherine Zeta-Jones (who doesn’t bother attempting to be Russian), is a superfluous character who adds nothing to the plot except some cliched relationship complications between Frank and Sarah.  The storyline is muddled and convoluted and a little hard to follow the particulars of, but that doesn’t matter as much in a movie like this as it would in an international espionage thriller that wanted to be taken more seriously.  There’s car chases and shootouts and hand-to-hand fights, and a major helicopter crash that two characters walk away from unscathed; for senior citizens these guys have the invincibility of 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Director Dean Parisot, replacing Robert Schwentke, doesn’t direct with much flair; the first Red wasn’t anything spectacular on the action front, but it had a slicker look to it.  On the other hand, the cast members still trade plenty of wisecracks and one-liners and their banter and the breezy pace helps keep things easy enough to get through, even if there’s more a feel of going through the motions this time around.

The main gang from Red reassembles here (minus Morgan Freeman, whose absence is to be expected if you’ve seen the first movie, and there’s no Karl Urban either).  Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and John Malkovich slip comfortably back into their roles, with Frank and Sarah doing a little couple’s bickering and Marvin handing out nuggets of relationship advice.  Helen Mirren again steals scenes as Victoria (she’s introduced chatting on the phone while dissolving a body in acid in her bathtub); alas Brian Cox, one of Red‘s small pleasures, has a smaller role this time.  Of the newcomers, Catherine Zeta-Jones feels superfluous while Anthony Hopkins doesn’t show up for a while and then spends a while in doddering old man mode before switching to suave Anthony Hopkins villain mode.  Neal McDonough is basically a more outright villainous version of Karl Urban’s Cooper from the first movie, and South Korean star Byung-hun Lee is suitably slick and steely-eyed as the elite assassin Han, even to make us kind of want to see him do this kind of role in a more serious movie.  David Thewlis pops up for a couple scenes as The Frog, an urbane wine connoisseur who’s more of a handful than he looks (like many of the other people in the movie, Thewlis isn’t someone you typically expect to see firing a machinegun or in a motorcycle chase).  There’s bit parts for Garrick Hagon, Tim Pigott-Smith and Steven Berkoff.

Red 2 is still an adequate diversion for undemanding action-comedy fans, but the novelty has evaporated from an original that didn’t have much to begin with besides its elderly action heroes.  The film has its charms, an occasional decent action scene, and some funny moments, but feels like leftovers from three years ago, warmed-over and reheated.  Maybe these guys should stay retired this time.

* * 1/2