The original RED sneaked up on me with a sleeper hold, its dull action rendering me unconscious and likely drooling by the time Morgan Freeman disappeared from the story (I literally woke up, and he was gone). But regardless of these established low expectations, RED 2 is an assuredly non-toxic breeze during a movie season humid with films looking to provide the same potent amount of mindless entertainment. It’s another soiree from Willis and his easy-going air of action genre nostalgia, the self-parodying gag still not reaching the point of offensiveness. For this second round, Willis returns as Frank Moses, a former CIA operative who has since been domesticated to a Costco-shopping life with his wife Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) in which a power washer sounds more enticing than the act of shooting someone. Frank and his kooky CIA partner Marvin (John Malkovich) are suddenly put back into action when they discover they are being framed for involvement in a mysterious mission in the past called Nightshade, which involves the disappearance of a weapon of mass destruction. On the trail for intel, Frank, Sarah and Marvin head to France where they interact with Katja, a Russian spy and old flame of Frank’s. Meanwhile, things get further complicated when Frank discovers that not one, but two people have been hired to kill him – Helen Mirren’s sniping MI6 assassin Victoria, and Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee), a former partner of Frank’s. Without insulting his audience, Willis tunes into the cool John McClane mannerisms of the last two Die Hard movies, as if RED 2 was a second epilogue to the entire Die Hard franchise that pretended John McClane works for the CIA and not the NYPD. While we can be thankful his character’s attribute of being domesticated isn’t expanded on beyond his first scene, one can easily chalk up this action movie as another automatic role for Wills. His initial action moment (involving tactfully taking out a group of soldiers one by one) has a few amusing sparks, but he is best here when he is a lunkhead punchline, especially concerning his on-screen relationship with Parker and her frustration at his past with Jones’ Russian spy. That being said, RED 2 gets a share of its energy from Willis’ immediate on-screen counterparts, Parker and John Malkovich, who keep the comedy-action (not the other way around) moving, even if the jokes aren’t that funny. Parker is a little delightful as the giddy onlooker to her husband’s craziness, her outsider perspective making for a chuckle or two or three when she interacts with the numerous villains from the stance of an arguably more normal human being, and not a person desensitized to killing, etc. With his serious roles showing on his distinctive face (specifically In the Line of Fire), Malkovich demonstrates well that his intensity does transition swiftly to a goofier perspective. Instead of playing a serious nut, he’s now playing a silly nut, making for one of the movie’s more exclusive tidbits. To Malkovich’s credit, his humor does not feel too planted for audience amusement, as is the case with characters purposely made to provide a wacky air to an atmosphere. Here’s hoping Malkovich’s type of clowning doesn’t eventually find its way into an Adam Sandler movie. Although with only a touch more hints of complete lunacy, such could easily be the case. Other casting choices do not succeed with fulfilling the movie’s simple, but direct requirements of grumpy old men and women having some melee fun. Helen Mirren’s appearance as a violent British woman often feels like pandering, even for the movie’s general cause of showing non-young people blow stuff up. Watching Mirren fire two pistols out from the side of a speeding car is a phony thrill, distracting bad effects aside, that makes for a cheesy moment in a movie filled with flat jokes. The same can be said with Anthony Hopkins’ work, which is the product of cheap lessons from clown school. Perhaps he should have taken a few pointers from Malkovich? The hardest worker here in the flick is undoubtedly Lee, who most recently played ninja Storm Shadow again in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. With a muscular physique shown off during his own introduction and then utilized for a couple of following captivating martial arts scenes, Lee provides the movie not just with some serious, but also its more technically accomplished thrills. Especially in a fight scene in a shop opposite Willis, Lee makes the more famous yet less athletic star appear like an executive producer with a walk-on role at best. Aside from its more welcome members on its guest list, RED 2 stays greased up with its piling of action moments. Any scene involving yet another plot about another nuclear weapon is just blasting time, but at least this movie from Dean Parisot, the director of Galaxy Quest, has the right amount of action to its comic objective that it maintains a surprising element of energy. Jet-setting like it’s World War Z all over again doesn’t hurt, either.
Such moments come with the simple matinee pleasures that a Bruce Willis sequel aim to bring, such as the image of a million bullets being fired at our hero and Malkovich during a multi-car chase through Paris. This is not an action pinnacle, but it is captured with enough confidence and packaging to give a few amusing treats for its actors’ followers in this admittedly unnecessary sequel. Slow motion proves to be the cheesiest visual effect on Parisot’s palette (especially with how ridiculous certain images look), but RED 2 makes fine, and light speed as another cartoonish action movie occupied with putting comic relief first.
Den of Geek Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars