Red 2 returns us to the world of ex-CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and his gang of murderous Cold War kids, including Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren). After a few minutes of trying to settle down and in with his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), Frank’s involvement in a top-secret mission of yesteryear pulls him—and eventually all the surviving gang from 2010’s Red—back into a game of kill-them-before-they-kill-you as he tries to figure out why, once again, he’s a target.
As with its predecessor, much of Red 2’s charm stems from the appeal of its characters, which in turn borrows heavily from the considerable general good will felt toward the actors playing those characters. In this sense, the first Red’s success ($58 million budget, $199 million worldwide box office) was owed at least to some extent to the same cinematic alchemy as 1993’s Grumpy Old Men—the general professional likability of an established actor’s brand (albeit with much more murder). Whereas Grumpy Old Men relied on three aging principles (Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon and Ann-Margret) and associated bit players, the Red franchise rests on four (Willis, Malkovich, Mirren and Parker). Of course, Willis and company are a bit younger than Matthau et al. (though not by as much as one would think) and the dictates of Red’s genre call for a much swifter-paced and violence-soaked narrative than the 1993 romantic comedy, but still Rightly Paranoid Old Men seems pretty appropriate whenever Frank and Marvin are in a scene together.
Armed with a cast-likability quotient that’s through the roof and a breezy script that moves at the speed of Bourne, Red 2 behaves at times as if it doesn’t need much more than that—and frankly, it doesn’t. A few new characters—a Russian spy and old flame (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and an assassin with a grudge (Byung-hun Lee)—are introduced to replenish the ranks. (Neither film is afraid to rack up a body count.) But ultimately, Dean Parisot’s film, much like the pulp comic tradition from which it comes, is all about having the same cool characters doing slightly different variations of the same cool things. And for many, watching Willis, Malkovich, Mirren and Parker at play will prove more than sufficient reason to see Red 2.
Director: Dean Parisot
Writer: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber (screenplay); Warren Ellis, Cully Hamner (characters)
Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Release Date: July19, 2013