by George Sax
When it was released in October 2010, the spy spoof Red might not have seemed likely to justify a sequel. In its opening week, it only grossed about $22 million in the US, and its international take to date is less than $100 million. The closest thing to a real star in it was Bruce Willis, whose former brilliance in the Hollywood firmament had been dimmed for some time. What with cast members like John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, and the late Ernest Borgnine along for the ride, Red might have seemed like an early part of the recent geezer action-hero mini-trend.
But since the movie business is now very importantly involved in delivering “tent-pole” product and franchise movies, perhaps the people behind the DC Comics movie division release of Red 2 thought that the first one had done well enough to warrant another go at it.
Anyway, here it is, and at a preview this week the audience was easily more than a decade older than the people who typically buy multiplex tickets. And once again, we have the jokey premise of two retired US secret agents who find themselves targeted for annihilation by former colleagues, or their evil henchmen, because they’re mistakenly perceived to be a threat to the agency, America, or the world. And of course, the joke is that these two aging castoffs are smarter, tougher, and more effective than the younger baddies, whom they proficiently dispatch.
That’s not really much, to be sure, but in Red it was made more interesting by serviceably clever embellishments. Malkovich’s Marvin Boggs was a very odd, slightly paranoid electronics expert inhabiting an underground shelter beneath a ’57 Chevy in the Everglades. And Willis’s Frank was forced to kidnap a sweetly innocent and bored stiff pension check processor in Kansas City, whom he had only talked to on the telephone, because everyone he’d had contact with recently was in danger. He apologetically immobilizes this shocked, incredulous woman (Mary-Louise Parker) with duct tape and flees with her. And a substantial part of the fun was the way Willis and Malkovich played off each other, the former’s faintly smirky, slightly superior air against the latter’s beady-eyed, nasal querulousness.
All three are back, along with Mirren and several newcomers, but this time the jokes are stretched out and a little thinner. Director Dean Parisot seems aware of this because the movie is louder and busier. When things threaten to lag, he stages one of the many shoot-’em-up, blow-’em-up sequences. Red 2 is never quite boring, and certainly keeps moving, but it’s also often incomprehensibly complex. It involves some super-frightening nuclear weapon, code-named Nightshade, that was stashed somewhere in Moscow decades ago. (Anyone who claims to be able to accurately summarize the plot is probably either bluffing or using some PR department crib sheet.)
If you don’t demand narrative clarity or coherence, Red 2’s casually tongue-in-cheek jocosity many well satisfy. There are certainly worse ways to spend two hours in area theaters these days. And if you wait until the last half, you’ll get Anthony Hopkins stealing the picture as a cheerfully mad scientist with a hidden agenda. The actor is aided by the script, but you’ve probably never head “jolly good” uttered so amusingly.
Watch the trailer for Red 2
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