So three years ago Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, and Morgan Freeman starred in Red—a movie fueled by the premise that old people can still kick ass, too. It was an enjoyable movie. Bruce Willis beat Karl Urban up a couple of times, John Malkovich played a crazy person, and Morgan Freeman died…I think. To be honest, I can’t remember much about it, and I doubt anyone left theaters clamoring for a sequel. Well, Red received a sequel, and while it’s just as enjoyable, it’s ultimately just as forgettable.
Bruce Willis returns as retired agent Frank Moses, who, at the start of this film, is attempting to adjust to civilian life with his perky girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker). But the best never retire, and soon Frank finds himself thrown back into action after a former colleague (John Malkovich) is supposedly killed by assassins in the parking lot of a Costco. It turns out that Frank may know the whereabouts of weapon of mass destruction created over thirty years ago by a mad genius (Anthony Hopkins). Naturally, the Americans, the Brits, and the Russians want the device for their own purposes, so they send a slew of contract killers including Helen Mirren, Neal McDonough, and Byung-hun Lee to extract that information.
Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and a-very-much-alive John Malkovich spend the rest of the movie jet-setting around the world while talented veterans like Brian Cox, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and David Thewlis show up to collect paychecks. Red 2 is a jumble of sloppy exposition, reasonably well-crafted action sequences, and decent one-liners. It’s a good thing there’s so much talent in front of the camera here, because there isn’t much going on behind it. Red 2 illustrates just how watchable an otherwise bad movie can become if you crank up the star power.
The story, involving the search for a hidden doomsday device, rests on autopilot. Our heroes and their adversaries hit London, Paris, Hong Kong, and Moscow on their quest, because why not? Every spy flick eventually hits one or all of the above locations, and the filmmakers behind Red 2 have no interest in distinguishing themselves from the pack. The movie’s occasional action sequences are competently filmed, but the carnage isn’t particularly novel or exciting.
The cast is the real reason to see Red 2. True, Bruce Willis sleepwalks through another paycheck, but a sleepwalking Willis is still superior to a wide-awake Channing Tatum. The supporting cast works harder to pick up the slack. Mary-Louise Parker and John Malkovich keep the movie watchable with madcap performances as Frank’s overly-enthusiastic, slightly-off accomplices. Helen Mirren adds a dash of class and droll humor to the proceedings. Catherine Zeta-Jones brings her usual sex appeal. And David Thewlis, Anthony Hopkins, and Brian Cox drop in to remind everyone that the best character actors in the world still come from the United Kingdom.
No one is given anything challenging to do. They’re all cast according to type, and there aren’t any surprises here. Bruce Wills has been playing action heroes for thirty years now; Mary-Louise Parker anchored a successful television comedy for nearly a decade; and Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich both know how to play crazy people. The cast isn’t forced to stretch or challenge themselves in any way, but I would be willing to pay money just to listen to this group take turns reading from a phone book. Charisma counts for a lot in Hollywood, and this cast has a surplus of it. They strain against the sheer mediocrity of Red 2 and turn it into something enjoyable.
Still, the movie could have been much more, and the presence who embodies what the film could have been is Korean actor Byung-hun Lee. The international star, who turned in a brilliant performance in the Korean thriller I Saw the Devil but was utterly wasted in the G.I. Joe franchise, holds his own against the rest of the cast. He overcomes the language barrier and brings a level of physical intensity and innate coolness to the picture that would otherwise be lacking. He’s a legit star, and sadly, he isn’t in the movie enough. The few times he appears, he adds a certain kinetic energy to an otherwise sluggish picture. Just a film about him playing a cat-and-mouse spy game with Bruce Willis would be fantastic.
But Red 2 still works. It’s hard to screw up a movie with this much talent, and to his credit, journeyman director Dean Parisot does not. Red 2 is an inoffensive, enjoyable movie that’s well worth a rental. Like its predecessor, however, I can’t say I’ll remember a thing about it in three years’ time.