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Seeing RED … again

Cast returns to gleefully romp another day

By Philip Martin

This article was published July 19, 2013 at 1:45 a.m.


(L-R) MARY-LOUISE PARKER, BRUCE WILLIS and JOHN MALKOVICH star in RED 2 Ph: Jan Thijs © 2013 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

A clip from the movie "RED 2"

South Korean assassin Han (Byung Hun Lee) runs into his starlets Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) in a Moscow convenience store in this clip from Summit Entertainment's "RED 2." (By Summit Entertainment)
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In a season of miscalculations and misfires (presumptive summer blockbusters Man of Steel, The Lone Ranger and Pacific Rim have all disappointed on multiple levels), the modest charms of a movie like RED 2 (“RED” is an acronym that stands for “retired, extremely dangerous”) are likely to be overrated. So let’s just stipulate that for all its creakiness and obviousness, it’s remarkably good fun to watch the old pros who comprise the primary cast of this baby-boomer action comedy put through their paces. While RED 2 is by no means an important or especially memorable movie, it is a refreshingly competent experience.

If that’s faint praise, it’s praise nevertheless - the veteran cast, Dean Parisot’s unfussy direction and the vicarious pleasure of actually being in foreign cities that haven’t been digitally realized make RED 2 a perfectly enjoyable summer time waster, the sort of midsummer sequel one’s maiden aunt might enjoy. All the violence is suitably cartoony, and while the threat of sex hovers constantly about Mary-Louise Parker’s character, it never settles on the screen. What’s mainly left is the goony charisma of John Malkovich and Dame Helen Mirren’s remarkable equanimity in the face of ridiculousness. There is a modest amount of fun to be had in watching RED 2, but it is one of those movies you suspect was even more fun to make.

So on to the plot. Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), the retired CIA field agent you may remember from 2010’s RED, has apparently settled down with Sarah (Parker), the somewhat younger woman who fell in love with him after he repeatedly saved her life in the first movie. They are engaged in some sort of domestic relationship, which the film telegraphs by opening in a giant warehouse store (a Costco, I would guess) where they are shopping for mundane household items. They they are set upon by Frank’s old partner, Marvin Boggs (Malkovich), who means to warn them about a government plot to eliminate them because of their involvement in a long ago covert mission into the Soviet Union. Marvin and Frank unwittingly helped smuggle a nuclear device into the Kremlin in the ’70s. And that information has just hit the Internet, courtesy of WikiLeaks.

So, with the bomb’s mad creator Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) safely detained in a secret London prison, the U.S. government (or, more precisely, a rogue faction within the intelligence community) has decided to eliminate the retired operatives. Sarah is riveted by Marvin’s tale, while Frank poohpoohs it but then Marvin’s car explodes, lending some credibility to his account.

Before long, the (spoiler alert) not-quite-dead-yet Marvin, Frank and Sarah go on the lam to elude their would-be assassins, who include Jack Horton (Neal McDonough, who had an enjoyable arc on the most recent season of Justified), South Korean contract killer Han (Byung-hun Lee) and - surprise, surprise, surprise - Victoria (Mirren), Frank and Marvin’s old MI6 colleague.

Globetrotting commences, and in Paris, our gang meets up with Russian agent Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), one of Frank’s old flames, and dispenses with (for reasons I didn’t quite get) The Frog, a French wine connoisseur played with aplomb by David Thewlis. Then they move to England, and from there, Moscow, where the remarkable Lee gets to show off his considerable kung fu skills in a well-choreographed, brilliantly kinetic sequence allegedly set in a Moscow convenience store (but more likely filmed on a London soundstage).

Parisot - who directed Galaxy Quest 14 years ago and has since done his best work in TV - seems to have deliberately toned down any directorial style, opting to let the considerable charms of his cast of good sports and the mild shock of the actual locations stand on their own. This seems a reasonable strategy, as the film feels a bit less brutal than its predecessor. But it also feels a bit more generic and middle-of-the-road.

And I fear that’s on purpose. About the best - and maybe the worst - that can be about RED 2 is that it is an exceedingly safe pick.

RED 2 85 Cast: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung-hun Lee, Brian Cox, David Thewlis, Neal McDonough Director: Dean Parisot Rating: PG-13, for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material Running time: 116 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 29 on 07/19/2013

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