Red 2 (2013)

Director: Dean Parisot

Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung Hun Lee, Brian Cox, Neal McDonough

How do you keep the energy of an action film series fresh? It can’t be easy, or else there would be any number of sequels out there that could claim to be as good or better than the original. Comedies have the same problem. Too often, they take the easy road of repeating all the same jokes. When you fuse the two genres together, it puts even more pressure on the filmmakers to deliver. The action scenes need to dazzle the eyes and the humor has to tickle the funny bone. Fail in either area, and you’re screwed. Bruce Willis has had plenty of experience with duds over the course of his film career. Even the “Die Hard” franchise has been phoning it for the last 20 years (give or take). How was “RED 2” going to avoid the sequel curse? Well, putting together as equally talented a cast as the first film was certainly a step in the right direction.

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) witness the apparent demise of their friend Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and attend the subsequent funeral. Marvin has faked his death so many times over the years, Frank notes, that it doesn’t seem real that he can be gone. Well, of course he isn’t! Frank gets picked up by government agents after the funeral, but the agents are all disposed of during Frank’s interrogation by Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) and a SWAT team. Frank, also a target, manages to escape in the nick of time, rescued by Sarah and a very much alive Marvin. Frank listens as Marvin explains his deception: They’ve been labeled terrorists because they were erroneously linked to a secret operation codenamed Nightshade. To make matters worse, they’re the targets of two contract killers, Han Cho-Bai (Byung Hun Lee) and their friend, Victoria (Helen Mirren), who calls them in advance to warn them about her hiring by MI6.

Globe-hopping from Paris to London to deep in the heart of Moscow, Frank and crew pick up some company along the way in the form of Katya, a Russian secret agent whom Marvin describes to a jealous Sarah as being Frank’s Kryptonite. She’s just as interested in Nightshade as the rest of them, but is ready, willing and able to backstab Frank at a moment’s notice. Good thing Marvin anticipates this, or she would make off with the all-important key they need. The group’s travels lead them to an insane asylum in London (how appropriate!), where they find the inventor of the nuclear device known as Nightshade, Dr. Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins). He’s been locked up for 32 years, and has the appearance of a man whose mind is mostly mush. Appearances can be deceiving.

Having Anthony Hopkins in your movie, whether in the wise old man role or as the villain, pretty much automatically ups your cool factor, as can the presence of Catherine Zeta-Jones. While that holds true in a very big way for Hopkins, I was mostly disappointed with Jones’s inclusion in “RED 2.” Katya seems to have been conceived as a mere plot device to create an unnecessary and uninteresting triangle between her character, Frank and Sarah. Fortunately, this plot device is prevented from overwhelming the main story as I feared it might. Byung Hun Lee and Neal McDonough are okay, but I miss Karl Urban. Willis, Parker, Malkovich and Mirren are all still a lot of fun, and I could stand to see them team together for a third go-round if they so choose. I especially appreciate that Mary-Louise Parker was given even more to do this time than in “RED.” Sarah may not be Retired and Extremely Dangerous, but she’s an integral part of the team now.

One of the more random events in the movie is a blatant product placement for Papa John’s Pizza during the Moscow sequence. There’s a secret tunnel to where the bomb is hidden, but to get to it, Frank & Co. have to enter a Papa John’s location and break through the wall in the back of the building. Great, now I crave a pepperoni and anchovies pizza w/ extra cheese. Thanks for that.

Generally speaking, I enjoyed the experience of watching this movie. If “RED 2” is inferior to the original, it is because it is far too predictable. While “RED” kept me guessing, “RED 2” delivers a more straightforward, black & white story where you know who the villains are, you can expect one of the bad guys to join the cause of the people they’ve spent most of the movie trying to kill, and you even know what trick the heroes will use to save the day. The villain’s favorite line that he likes to use is “Didn’t see that coming, did you?” Well, yes… as a matter of fact, I did.

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