Helen Mirren's character in 'Red 2,' Victoria, is an expert shot.
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Like most sequels, Red 2 doesn’t improve on its predecessor. Nor does it really try. It’s just more of the same; a successful equation of good actors plus silly story equals mindless fun. Based on a DC Comics miniseries, Red was the story of retired CIA operative Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), who’s handy with guns, knives, and killing in general, and his equally deadly friends, who fight off assassins and a lethal government agent.
Directed by Dean Parisot. A Summit release, playing at Cinemark Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated PG-13 for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material. Running time: 108 minutes.
Critic’s Rating ★★½
Frank. Bruce Willis
Sarah. Mary Louise Parker
Marvin. John Malkovich
Victoria . Helen Mirren
Bailey. Anthony Hopkins
Red 2 picks up a few years later with Frank and girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) now all but domesticated. We know this because he shops at Costco and therefore must be reformed from his days of governmentsanctioned assassinations. But it was Frank’s adventurous life, in contrast to her own humdrum world, that first attracted Sarah. Now that they’re middle-class suburbanites, she’s grown restless and bored in their relationship.
Then Marvin (John Malkovich) shows up to warn them that he and Frank are targets after leaked documents about a hush-hush program called Nightshade erroneously tied the two former operatives to the decades-old project.
R ed 2’s story is an excuse to, as the first film said, get the old gang back together (again) and to give them something to do. Much of what follows involves Frank and Marvin shooting their way out of scrapes, Frank arguing with Sarah and Marvin about her staying out of danger, and the trio’s investigation into Nightshade. Their jet-setting adventures take them to Paris, France, and London, with plenty of gunfights, explosions, and death along the way.
Joining their cause is British operative and friend Victoria (Helen Mirren). She warns Frank that Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee), the world’s deadliest contract killer, is one of many assassins on their trail. Han also has a strong grudge against Frank and is only too happy to terminate the man who put him in jail years ago. Frank is also reunited with Russian operative and former girlfriend Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), much to the irritation of Sarah.
Recently seen as the ninja assassin Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Lee has undeniable screen appeal and ballet-smooth fighting skills, both of which justify bigger action roles to come. But as the dangerous Russian spy, Zeta-Jones speaks with a peculiar American-British accent, and is saddled with a most unfortunate hairstyle: bowl-cut bangs that suggest she's not as much femme fatale as femme cringe.
Rounding out the major new characters is Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant scientist and weapons maker who was long ago locked away by the British government. Bailey is the key to Nightshade. He's also slightly looney. Hopkins is suitably understated in a role that, if played by an actor with less experience, could have siphoned too much attention from the others.
Screenwriters Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber expand upon rather than redefine the world they established in 2010's Red. As such, Red 2 is an exercise in repetition: Frank is still the always-calm, steady killer. Marvin is still paranoid and dangerous. Victoria is still the cold-blooded assassin who can shoot her way out of any situation. At its most basic, Red 2 is really just an excuse for Willis to be an action hero and Malkovich to be slightly unhinged, and while the two actors play to our expectations, it's Mirren again playing against type that proves most satisfying. Watching the 68-year-old and still dazzling actress wield guns with the best of 'em and calmly eradicate the corpse of a fresh kill with a bottle of acid is novel and darkly pleasurable. Her slow-mo dual-gun shootout in a fast-moving car chase is the exclamation point to the entire sequence.
Amid this trio of super agents, Sarah is the unexceptional team member, whose only skill is, as Frank notes, that people like her. Given Sarah's limitations, the Hoebers offer little for Parker's character, other than as comic relief — she misfires a gun, she kisses bad guys, she insults Katja, and complains about missing out on all the fun — and damsel in distress. It's again an underwritten role that requires little of Parker but to whine and feign bravery.
Red 2 is director Dean Parisot's first action movie. It's also very much a comedy, with snarky dialogue and physical gags between and during the destruction and death. Parisot, whose film resumé consists largely of comedies (2005's Fun with Dick and Jane, 1999's Galaxy Quest), blends the action and humor well enough, never allowing the film to tip too far in one direction. Like the Hoebers, though, he is less concerned with the overall story as he is selling the action and generating laughs.
But with a cast this talented, it doesn't take much convincing.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.