In our house, we operate a 20 minute movie rule. This applies to anyone subjected to a film they haven’t seen before, and allows that person the chance to veto any movie that’s been picked for viewing within the first 20 minutes. Movies that have recently fallen victim to the rule have included such controversial decisions as A Dangerous Method (ruled out by my wife’s allergy to Kiera Knightley, exacerbated in Method by her gurning and ‘acting’ crazy) and Zero Dark Thirty (invoked by me in a tired and hung-over state, as I didn’t have a clue what anyone was talking about and didn’t want to spend my Sunday afternoon watching waterboarding).
Strangely enough, the Miley Cyrus DTV opus So Undercover survived unscathed, but then again that involved beer and gratuitous Jeremy Piven. I’ll completely understand if you now hold my opinion null and void.
The reason I mention all of this is that, chances are, if you’re watching a film, the first 20 minutes work like an almost mathematical formula as to how much you’re likely to be able to tolerate the rest of the film. Sadly for Red 2, had it been watched at home, the remaining 96 minutes would’ve remained unwatched.
As Red 2 begins, we’re treated to the sight of Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker’s characters engaged in a rather unsubtle and comically strained conversation about how she misses the excitement of their previous adventure, while he remains stoic about how she needs protecting and how his previous life is a constant threat to her. Within minutes, John Malkovich has appeared and throws his unique brand of crazy into the equation, there’s a pointless diversion via explosion, some plot exposition, famous faces appearing faster than you can name them, and a shootout. The problem is that each scene feels like part of a different movie, and the film continues exactly along that path.
During those opening 20 minutes, not everything falls flat. The always fantastic Neal McDonough appears (who first made an impact on me in Ravenous back in the late 90s) and there’s a nice Bruce-versus-SWAT team encounter, but it’s surrounded by pedestrian and predictable plotting and some very basic humour. Red 2 very quickly establishes itself as a film that tries too hard in every way, but doesn’t really succeed in many, as it throws everything at the wall in the vain hope that something sticks.
The tone is similarly messy, as it flits from slapstick and toilet humour to nuclear threat dramatics, to over the top action spectacle, the only sense of cohesion coming from the déjà vu of watching such sights as spinning CGI car shots lifted from Wanted, or a break in to the Kremlin that can’t hold a torch to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – even the sight of the illustrious Helen Mirren wielding firearms seems a little tired after the first Red, and that was only three years ago.
Red 2 also seems at odds with its own rating, containing a lot of death, violence and black comedy, but no blood or balls to back it up. One moment Helen Mirren’s pouring acid over a dead body in a bathtub and it’s played for laughs, the next a character’s having his throat cut but with the same bloodless confusion that Taken 2 suffered from – it looks like the sight of the knife being waved gently in front of a face is enough to kill them, but even when the body’s discovered, there’s not even a drop of blood on the carpet. Maybe it was a very expensive carpet.
There’s also a fundamental flaw at the core of Red 2, and that comes from the strange assumption that we’re supposed to somehow be invested in the relationship between Willis and Parker (there seems very little point in mentioning character names, as they’re all but overpowered by the actors on show). Willis is unfortunately on autopilot, and doesn’t even bother to put the same energy into his performance that he did in his Expendables 2 extended cameo – he’s happy just to plod along and crack wise from time to time. It’s tragic to even write the words, but for the third time this year (the others being G.I. Joe 2 and A Good Day To Die Hard) an action movie would have actually been better without Bruce Willis.
Having witnessed Willis’ strained and slightly odd words at the premiere of Red 2, I’m starting to wonder if there’s a correlation between his attitude to a film’s promotion and its quality – he was infamously rubbish during a UK interview for Die Hard 5, which turned out to be awful, and the same applies here. If he doesn’t believe in the films he’s making anymore, he needs to stop, or he’s in danger of undoing all the kudos he acquired from the likes of Twelve Monkeys and The Sixth Sense, and will probably be stuck making Colour Of Night 2 next. Thank God Sin City 2 is finally on the cards.
Mary-Louise Parker, though a fine actress in her own right, suffers far worse as she’s stuck with nothing more to do than act like a strangely overgrown child, whining and romping around in an incredibly irritating way that in no way fits the film. I don’t really remember her being quite such a drain in the first Red, but it’s a real shame that she’s stuck in the same ditzy bimbo mould that seems to pervade mainstream action movies – Reese Witherspoon and Cameron Diaz suffered a similar fate in This Means War and Knight And Day respectively, and it’s an utter waste. There’s simply no excuse when this year alone has seen Gina Carano (in Fast 6), Jaimie Alexander (in The Last Stand and soon Thor 2) and Adrianne Palicki (in G.I. Joe: Retaliation) all, well, kicking ass in the best way.
The rest of the supporting cast are also casualties of Red 2’s slapdash direction, with personal favourites such as Brian Cox and David Thewlis accumulating around 10 minutes of screen time between them, though with very little beyond some cringe-inducing moments to work with. Even Anthony Hopkins is saddled with such a clichéd and stereotypical caricature of America’s perception of an Englishmen, muttering a record breaking amount of ‘jolly good’s’ in place of any other dialogue.
Still McDonough aside, it’s great to see Byung-hun Lee coming out on top in a summer blockbuster, especially after his solid work as Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe 2. His earnest turn combined with a charismatic intensity really help to lift the scenes he’s in, and Lee also gets to feature in the film’s three best action scenes, including an old-school martial arts encounter with a police force and the strangely exciting sight of seeing him in a chase with Helen Mirren accompanied by the sound of metal.
I tried incredibly hard to see the best in Red 2, and there are moments to enjoy and a few laughs to be had, but it’s just too much of a mess overall. Fellow Geek writer Rachel Bowles (the name’s no coincidence) went in excited, but would have pulled the plug almost immediately and was far less polite about the film, adding that, “With a cast that has spent several decades showing nothing but range, eclectic performances and variety, that they were subjected to such a laboured script that seemed to sidestep any genuine wit or subtlety in favour of appealing to the lowest common denominator. You can only hope that one of the appeals for the cast was the cast itself, and that they at least got to spend some quality time together between takes – maybe questioning their very involvement with the project. “
If you’re looking for a comic book adaption with invention and wit, you’d be better served watching The Losers and giving Red 2 a wide berth until its home release. At least that way you’ll be able to apply the 20 minute rule for yourselves.
Red 2 is out on the 2nd August in the UK.
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