Monday, July 22, 2013

In Theaters: RED 2 (2013)

(US - 2013)

Directed by Dean Parisot. Written by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber. Cast: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung Hun Lee, Brian Cox, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, Steven Berkoff, Garrick Hagon, Tim Pigott-Smith, Vlasta Vrana, Titus Welliver. (PG-13, 117 mins)

RED, the 2010 big-screen version of Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner's comic book series, was a surprise hit at the box office, a sort of GRUMPY OLD BLACK-OPS AGENTS, featuring an ensemble cast that seemed to be legitimately having a great time.  The Retired and Extremely Dangerous crew returns in this bigger-budgeted sequel that's lacking the novelty and freshness of the first film, but it's still quite fun, and you can have a great compare/contrast with the Bruce Willis in this film and the one who barely showed up for this year's earlier A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD.  There aren't many actors worse at hiding their obvious lack of interest in a project than Willis, but when he likes what he's doing, he's still got it.

Frank Moses (Willis) is still retired, living with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), and seemingly spending most of his days shopping at Costco when he's ambushed by his eccentric old cohort Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich).  Marvin informs Frank that they're being hunted by agents from around the globe because of Nightshade, a secret 1970s operation involving the planting of nuclear device somewhere in Moscow.  After evading a CIA-sanctioned assassin (Neal McDonough), Frank, Sarah, and Marvin head to Europe, pursued by killers from around the globe, including their old colleague Victoria Winters (Helen Mirren) and Korean assassin Han (Byung Hun Lee), and a Russian femme fatale from Frank's past (Catherine Zeta-Jones) before springing Dr. Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), who designed the weapon and knows its whereabouts, from a London mental institution, where he's been stashed away by MI-6 for 32 years and is now completely insane.

RED 2 is pretty undemanding and you'll either go along with its silliness or you won't.  It sets out to be a fun summer popcorn movie and mostly succeeds.  Some jokes fall flat and, at 117 minutes, it runs a little too long.  Willis and Malkovich have a terrific camaraderie, Parker is as appealing as ever, and Mirren is enjoyable poking fun at her image, again playing a badass killer striking clich√©d action movie poses while metal riffs rip on the soundtrack.  There's also an unexpected bonus in the form of a brief Hannibal Lecter summit, with Hopkins sharing scenes with Brian Cox (returning as Russian ally Ivan Simanov), who played Lecter in 1986's MANHUNTER.  The film also does a nice job with putting together action sequences (particularly a Paris car chase) that are completely ridiculous but always coherent, and there's a lot of amusing oddball touches, like Malkovich's wardrobe and facial expressions, Sarah opting to get an enemy agent (David Thewlis) to talk by appealing to his soft side instead of letting Frank and Marvin go straight to torture (Frank: "This is what we do!"), Ivan admiring Victoria's toes and taking a moment to take a deep whiff of the inside of her boot, and the RED team sneaking into the underground tunnels of the Kremlin via an adjacent Papa John's.  The enthusiasm of the cast does much of the heavy lifting during the film's occasional slow stretches, and if you liked the first one, this is mostly more of the same, though I imagine a third installment will probably belabor the point a little and increase the likelihood of that other Bruce Willis showing up instead.

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