The 2010 action comedy RED wasn't exactly a critical favorite or box-office record beater, but a $90 million final gross gave the franchise-hungry studio Summit (the company that Twilight built) incentive to get the movie's gang of Retired and Extremely Dangerous counter-intelligence agents -- including Bruce Willis's eternally wry Frank Moses, John Malkovich's eternally paranoid Marvin Boggs and Helen Mirren's eternally hot Victoria -- back together again for another gag-friendly action picture. Before you join them on their globetrotting second adventure, here are five things you should know about RED 2.
It's the Summer's Second -- and More Enjoyable -- DC Comics Adaptation… Because It Has Nothing to do With the Actual Comic
Given the iconography and popularity of the hero the filmmakers were working, Man of Steel had much further to fall… and fall it did. In contrast, very few people know that the secret origin of the RED franchise is also rooted in comic books and even fewer people have read the actual comics themselves, a three-issue series written by Warren Ellis and released by Superman's publisher DC Comics (via its now defunct Wildstorm imprint) in 2003. That general unfamiliarity with the source material gave the filmmakers license to depart in some significant ways from the text without fear of pissing anyone off. They started by altering the basic tone of the piece, rewriting Ellis's gritty revenge tale as a bright, poppy and over-the-top action comedy in the vein of Hot Fuzz. The previous installment didn't pull this transformation off particularly effectively, however, with director Robert Schwentke (who, funnily enough, is helming this week's other under-the-radar comic book movie, R.I.P.D.) stealing too many stylistic tics from Edgar Wright's bag of tricks to mask the thinness of the script and the surprising lack of comic chemistry amongst the cast. With an actual comic director now installed behind the camera -- Dean Parisot, who gave the world Galaxy Quest and for that alone we should all revere him -- RED 2 offers a far more confident blend of high-concept humor and heavy-firepower action sequences (although it must be said that the former are stronger than the latter). Unlike Zack Snyder, Parisot didn't have to worry about reinventing a hero, rebooting a dormant franchise or launching an entire comic book universe… he just had to deliver a silly, weightless romp on time and on budget. In that respect, at least, mission accomplished.
Don't Bother Following the Plot
The one improvement that RED 2 hasn't made over its predecessor is in the storytelling department, with the script (once again assembled -- rather than written -- by Jon Hoeber and Eric Hoeber) leaping into action on the thinnest of pretenses and not so much racing as careening from hotspot to hotspot. There's a way to do this kind of lighter-than-air caper plotting well (look at almost any Richard Lester movie from the '60s and '70s), but the Hoebers' haven't nailed it; even the flimsiest of chase narratives have to be built on a logical (within the world of the movie anyway) sequence of events and that's where RED 2 falls short. Since the events of the first movie, Frank and his new galpal Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) have been playing at domesticity, but are deep down both are eager for a little more adventure. They get that chance when Marvin reappears to warn them that they've been targeted by some high-level flunky and his right-hand goon (Neal McDonough) for their involvement in a '70s op involving a top secret weapon and the scientist (Anthony Hopkins) who created it. Getting to the bottom of this case, and staying one step ahead of the agents pursuing them, takes Frank, Sarah and Marvin on an around-the-world race with stops in London, Paris and Moscow. While their overall goal remains clear -- get the weapon -- the exact logistics of their mission is chaotic and confused. My advice? Don't strain yourself putting more thought into the narrative logic (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) than the writers did.
It's Bruce Willis's Fifth "Part 2"
Make that sixth if you opt to count G.I. Joe: Retaliation, but that was a case where he joined the franchise after the fact rather than on the ground floor as he did with Die Hard, Look Who's Talking (betcha forgot about that one, huh?), The Whole Nine Yards and The Expendables. I spent much of the original RED thinking that Willis was severely miscast; for starters, even though he's closing in on retirement age at 58, his screen image is still a good decade younger, which doesn't entirely jibe with the "all-retiree army" conceit of the premise. Furthermore, he seemed unable or unwilling to completely connect with his older co-stars, mostly keeping them at arm's length with that stone-faced blank look he busts out whenever he's clearly doing a movie for the paycheck (see also: Cop Out). Maybe it's just because the Die Hard series is breathing its last gasps and so he's pinning his financial hopes on this franchise, but Willis is far more alert and playful in RED 2, actually mixing it up with returning players Malkovich, Mirren and Parker, as well as newbies like Catherine Zeta-Jones (as Frank's Russian former flame), rather than watching from the sidelines. My dream actor for Frank is still Jack Nicholson (who is actually of retirement age and has the kind of weird comic energy that would spark well opposite a guy like Malkovich), but Willis at least seems to be trying this time.
Once Again, Mary Louise Parker is the Best Thing In It
One of the few bright spots of the previous movie, Parker is even more endearing in the second installment, especially now that Sarah has fully emerged from her "ordinary person in an extraordinary situation" shell and relishes the opportunity to get in on the spy action. Where her co-stars are mostly coasting on their established personas, she's giving a real comic performance, one that's both adorably wacky and impishly sexy at the same time. Even when she's not the focal point of the scene, your eyes can't help but drift to Parker, because she's always in the moment, visibly reacting in character to what's going around her without simply mugging for the camera. If and when RED 3 is made, I'd rather see Sarah and Mirren's dryly amusing Victoria -- the franchise's strongest comic duo -- leave the dudes at home and choose their own adventure.
Don't Feel Bad About Waiting for Cable
After the giant-sized spectacle of Pacific Rim, which too many moviegoers ignored last week, the conventional bang bang, vroom vroom action movie theatrics of RED 2 can't help but seem puny by comparison. For that matter, The Heat is more consistently laugh-out-loud funny than this film, which -- Parker's spirited performance excepted -- mostly skates by on minor chuckles. Frankly, even though it's an improvement over the first RED, the film as a whole is just as disposable, holding your attention for roughly two hours without offering a single memorable moment to take out with you of the theater. In its scope and general aesthetic, it resembles an episode of an easy, breezy USA action series (think Covert Affairs) that's being projected in a theater. Save your money and see it on a screen that better suits its small-scale ambitions.
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