RED 2 (2013)
116 min., rated PG-13.
Of all the perfunctory, unwarranted sequels out there, was anyone actually crying out for, let alone expecting, one to 2010's "RED"? Acronymous for "Retired Extremely Dangerous," that trifle of an action caper-comedy was cheeky, light-footed, and entertaining enough, and, better for distributor Summit Entertainment, it was a surprise hit. There was giddy novelty in watching Dame Helen Mirren and old pros mix it up and have the rare opportunity to be in charge of the firepower in a shoot-'em-up spy romp, and for one movie, it was a gimmicky hoot. Three years later in "RED 2," what is really left? Where's the fun? Where's the freshness? In what feels more like a calculated, obligatory business deal than a continuation of a story that needed to be told, this contrived, for-the-paycheck movie is just more of the same and pretty much stays on auto-pilot for a long 116 minutes.
Having come right out of the gate calling this a negligible, phoned-in sequel, "RED 2" does get off to a fleet, reasonably quick-witted start with some of the energy of its three-year-old predecessor from new director Dean Parisot (2005's "Fun with Dick and Jane") and returning scribes and brothers Jon & Erich Hoeber. The film picks up with retired black-ops CIA operative Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and his Midwestern sweetie Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) living the domestic life and bulk shopping at Costco. He's content, and she's bored and begging for some danger in their relationship. After Frank's old friend and colleague Marvin (John Malkovich) is allegedly killed by an automobile bomb, a missing Cold War weapon from an old operation, called Project Nightshade, comes back to haunt Frank when baddie Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) brands him a nuclear terrorist and sends out deadly contract killer Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee) to make him permanently retired. Luckily, as they hop, skip and jump from Kansas to Paris to London and then Moscow, Frank, Sarah, and the undead Marvin seek help from refined assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren) and kooky physicist Dr. Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) who's been locked up as criminally insane.
The greatest compliment that can be handed to "RED 2" is that it knows how to move, something that the first film sometimes struggled with. However, the brain-deficient, "yadda-yadda-yadda" plot keeps spanning the globe just to get to the Kremlin and then back to London, and keeps having certain characters flipflop alliances just to thrust things along. With the film being based on Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner's three-part DC Comics graphic novel, the action is intentionally stylized and merrily over-the-top that a barrage of flying bullets can never hit the human targets and nobody bleeds. Amidst the frenetic but mostly uninspired gun-centric action and pyrotechnics, an early set-piece in the Yankee White Facility is well-staged and amusing, where Frank takes some names and makes a booby trap out of Pringles. If there's the hope that the wisecracking comedy will pick up the slack, it ends up being goofy at best and stale at worst.
The first time around, it was contagious watching the veteran cast have a blast at work; now, they're just showing up because they have to. Still not yet old enough to receive social security, a smirky, butt-kicking Bruce Willis is just running through the old-hat motions again, and John Malkovich gets to mug up a storm. Only the fun had by the likably wide-eyed Mary-Louise Parker ever translates to the audience, as she makes most of her line-readings land. Her final pre-credits scene in a Caracas bar is a hoot, too. Same goes for Helen Mirren, who's missed when she drops out of the frame. It's amusing to watch her Victoria dispose of a body with acid in a bathtub and gain access into a mental hospital as a loon claiming to be the Queen of England. The 68-year-old actress also owns the only memorable action sequence: a 360-degree car spin with a gun for each hand firing out of both front windows. New to the cast, Byung-hun Lee ("G.I. Joe: Retalitation") is an intense, hard-bodied force to be reckoned with, solely for his physical prowess, as killing machine Han; Catherine Zeta-Jones makes no impression beyond looking great and shooting some rounds in a black suit as Frank's former flame, Russian agent Katja Petrokovich; and with the loss of Morgan Freeman's class comes Anthony Hopkins who's called on to play an out-to-lunch genius/psychopath.
A very, very okay way to pass the time on HBO, "RED 2" isn't exactly bothersome or an out-and-out embarrassment, but it just has no raison d'être. It can be enjoyable to see the whole gang get back together, but here, the gang merely showed up, and now they can deposit their checks and move on. In about a month's time or less, one will likely ask, "There was a "RED 2"?"