(by Dustin Putman
2010's sleeper action-comedy "Red" (an acronym for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous, " based on the three-part DC Comics graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner) was no great shakes, its story of former CIA agents going head-to-head with assassins over a Guatemalan cover-up years ago pretty standard stuff. If the narrative was hardly worth keeping up with, older audiences especially took to its one notable twist: nearly all of the film's butt-kicking, sharp-shooting heroes were over fifty and just as sprightly and/or virile as their crooked, thirty-something bad-guy counterparts. As is so often the case when an uncalled-for sequel is made, "Red 2" is more of the same, but with twice the desperation and half the personality. Directed by Dean Parisot (2005's "Fun with Dick and Jane"), the film bears a tinge of comic book inspiration via animated scene transitions, but otherwise goes about its crime caper ways with nearly nothing to give it its own identity. The tired screenplay by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber (2012's "Battleship") is of little help, notable more for the amount of countries the characters traverse than anything else. Article continues below
Retired CIA analyst Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is happy to have settled down with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), but just as she begins to yearn for the taste she experienced of Frank's wild previous life, the two are pulled back into another dangerous mission. Wanted by MI6 over an operation named Nightshade from 1979, Frank seeks the aid of former cohorts Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Victoria Winslow (Helen Mirren), along with a couple new faces—Frank's slinky ex-girlfriend, Russian agent Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and a loopy physicist who has been locked away for thirty-two years, Dr. Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins)—to locate a hidden nuclear bomb before it falls into the wrong hands. As contract killer Han Cho Bai (Byung-Hun Lee) is sent to do away with Frank, all of the above find it exceedingly easy to double-cross each other while switching sides with such frequency it's a wonder they can keep straight what they believe and who their allegiances lie with.
"Red 2" spans the globe, hopping from Kansas to Paris to London to Moscow. As in the first film, how the characters can get around when all it looks like they do is blink and instantaneously transport themselves is anyone's guess (just don't expect an answer in return). What is more egregious than this contrived travel, though, is the plotting itself. Put simply, it's routine, contradictory, and silly but not fun, reminding of a narrative that's been thought up on the spot because the previous pic did well at the box office and studio Summit demanded a second installment. Action consists of a few car chases, all unimaginative, and a lot of gunfire that makes mincemeat out of automobiles while bloodlessly killing people. There's an important PG-13 rating to withhold, after all.
When was the last time Bruce Willis (2013's "A Good Day to Die Hard") flexed his acting muscles enough to play anyone other than a version of himself—or at least the smirking, tough-guy archetype he has created for himself over the last twenty-five years? Let's just say he doesn't break the habit playing Frank Moses. With no interest in delving into any of the returning ensemble, Mary-Louise Parker (2008's "The Spiderwick Chronicles"), as the adventurous if naive Sarah, once again runs the show with impeccable comic timing and the film's few bright spots. Having no proper training as a spy or government operative, she gets her way over and over using her flirtatious feminine whiles (read: lips), much to the dismayed reactions of boyfriend Frank. Given even less to do than they did last time, John Malkovich (2013's "Warm Bodies") is stripped of many of Marvin's colorful eccentricities, while Helen Mirren (2012's "Hitchcock") looks stranded by hopeless material that gives her nothing to do but fire guns, dispose of bodies with acid, and flaunt around like a wackadoodle who believes she's the Queen of England (it's all a hoax, you see, to break Bailey out of the looney bin so that he can hopefully guide them to the briefcase named Nightshade).
"Red" was only an okay entertainment, but now it's suddenly looking a whole lot better. As middle-of-the-road as the film was, there was an absurdist energy to the story and a shred of wisdom about the notion of getting older and leaving behind the past. "Red 2" doesn't even fulfill those minimal requirements; it's a forgettable, made-by-committee production with actors who should know better. The drama is weightless. The action is on the level of a mid-range spy show on television. The only comedy that works is when Mary-Louise Parker is on hand, her physical prowess as amusing as her pert line deliveries. By the end, one thing is exceedingly clear: Frank Moses would be wise to hang up his arsenal of weapons and retire for good.