After the bitter disappointment of the original Red, 2013’s Red 2was a golden opportunity to learn from previous mistakes and finally achieve the full potential of this promising set-up and fine cast. Original director Robert Schwentke was even jettisoned in favour of Dean Parisot, who helmed the underrated ’90s gem Galaxy Quest, demonstrating that he has what it takes to create a marvellous action-comedy. Alas, Red 2 is every bit as deflating as the first film, if not more so. It’s ultimately sunk by its slipshod screenplay, which was penned by returning writers Jon and Erich Hoeber. Aside from their work on the first Red, the pair also scripted Whiteout and Battleship. Why the hell would any producer hire these hacks for any project?
Retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) has settled into a peaceful life with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), but he’s soon approached by old pal Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), who advises the retiree that he’s not out of harm’s way. Details were recently leaked regarding a 1970s operation called Nightshade involving a devastating nuclear device, and Frank and Marvin are named terrorists by government stooge Jack (Neal McDonough) who plans to dispose of the pair. With the decades-old nuclear bomb still lurking somewhere in Russia, the old veterans are drawn back into action to investigate, calling upon incarcerated scientist Dr. Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) for help. Frank and Marvin’s former cohort Victoria Winslow (Helen Mirren) lends a hand as well, while Frank’s former flame Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones) also shows up. Further complicating matters is the fact that the world’s greatest contract killer, Han (Byung-hun Lee), has been hired to kill Frank. As this plays out, everyone seems to double-cross each other, switching sides with such frequency that it’s impossible to figure out where anyone’s allegiances lie.
Red 2 was released three years after its predecessor, implying that this was not a rush-job sequel. Nevertheless, the script certainly feels rushed and slipshod, as if the cameras rolled before much of a screenplay was written, and most everything was made up on the spot. The convoluted narrative is a mess of superfluous tangents, shady motivations, arbitrary plot contrivances and characters who randomly appear and disappear, making it hard to figure out what’s going on and why. Added to this, much like its forerunner, Red 2 is a sluggish bore which falls flat in terms of intrigue and suspense, weighed down by leaden pacing and witless dialogue. With surprisingly scarce action set-pieces, the film is overly verbose, but there’s no life or pop to the character interactions. Worse, this tedium runs for two goddamn hours. Red 2 should be lively and light on its feet, but it’s a laboured, monotonous slog.
It’s hard to believe that Red 2 was directed by the same man who gave the world Galaxy Quest and won an Oscar for a short film in 1989. This is actually Parisot’s first theatrical feature since 2005’s Fun with Dick and Jane, and though he’s dabbled in television in the interim (including The Good Wife, Justified, Modern Family and Monk), he seems really rusty, clueless about how to construct a proper film anymore. Red 2‘s technical specs are surprisingly mixed, with a few incoherent scenes, poor comic timing, and a general lack of vision. The compositions are basic and pedestrian, and the action scenes often feel positively lifeless. Hell, the creative visual flourish of using comic-book inspired freeze frames and animations only serve to emphasise the workmanlike nature of the cinematography. Some of the action is halfway entertaining, with a handful of car chases and gun battles, but the violence is bloodless to maintain the all-important PG-13 rating, forbidding anything memorable or colourful from taking place. Worse, Parisot never achieves the right tonal balance; Red 2 is rarely amusing and never hilarious, and the lack of an effective light-hearted tone makes the deaths of various characters feel oddly mean-spirited and dark.
The only variety in the action department is the hand-to-hand combat courtesy of Byung-hun Lee. A veteran of Korean action (if you haven’t seen A Bittersweet Life or I Saw the Devil, fix that), Lee brightens up the movie with his martial arts chops, but he seldom receives sufficient opportunities to flex them, and Parisot’s lackadaisical direction renders the close combat stuff oddly flat for the most part. Performances all-round are nothing special, with Willis clearly phoning this one in for the paycheque and refusing to have any fun with the role. Malkovich and Mirren, on the other hand, clearly had a ball, as did Anthony Hopkins who chews the scenery with gusto. None of the other actors make much of an impression, though Parker is still extremely attractive for a woman in her late forties.
Red 2 is not actively offensive, but it’s completely forgettable and hard to care about. The drama is weightless and flaccid, while the action scenes look like something from a mediocre TV show, and the comedy is ineffective. It’s a visually inept, pointless sequel motivated purely by box office receipts, and it fails to build on anything established in the first movie. Worse, there’s no Morgan Freeman here since his character bit the bullet back in 2010. Hopefully, this series will live up to its title and retire for good.