Film Review | Red 2

It's a sequel that does the exact same thing its original did. But what it does is actually quite fun.

Still got the fire: Mary-Louise Parker, Bruce Willis and John Malkovich return in this sequel to the 2010 retired spies action comedy.
Still got the fire: Mary-Louise Parker, Bruce Willis and John Malkovich return in this sequel to the 2010 retired spies action comedy.

Loosely based on a short comic book series by Warren Ellis, the espionage action-comedy Red (2010) became something of a sleeper hit - enough of a hit to spawn a sequel, the unimaginatively titled Red 2.

I can't remember a franchise that's breezier, that's more relaxed than this one. It's a particularly striking entry given how nearly every mainstream film appears to be contractually obliged to come with 3D-enhanced gimmicks (usually in the form of explosions) or - in the case of comedies - employ the services of a hugely popular sitcom star to execute a plot so crass it could be conceived by toddlers still firmly lodged in what Freud would call the 'anal stage'.

Instead, Red 2 - shamelessly aping nearly every footstep of its predecessor - trots along at a smooth, suave pace and with tongue firmly in cheek.

But from the bums-on-seats perspective, it's safe to say that the franchise thrives on its impressive collection of actors, who have returned in full force for the sequel.

Former CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), seen being coaxed out of retirement for 'one last mission' in the franchise's previous instalment, is determined to live the quiet life for good - relaxing in a sleepy town with his wife, the adventure-hungry Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker).

So when his mentally unstable ex colleague Marvin (John Malkovich) accosts Frank in a department store to lure him back to the old profession - promising high thrills as a new villain appears to be on the espionage scene - Frank is quick to brush him off, despite Sarah's enthusiasm to jump into the fray.

Things change, however, as it becomes clear that the shady presence is on their trail, and that Frank may just have to grit his teeth and put his spy cap back on, if only for the sake of protecting Sarah.

But it's not only the ruthless government operative Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) who's on to them. Though she gives him a fair warning, his old friend Victoria (Helen Mirren) has also been contracted to 'get' Frank, while Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee) is keen to settle an old score with our protagonist.

As if that weren't enough to keep our Frankie occupied, out pops Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), an old flame of his with an agenda of her own and - apparently - a still-beating heart for Frank (much to Sarah's chagrin).

The conspiracy at the heart of the story still has plenty of room to unravel, however, and by the time a 'special guest star' is introduced to this already illustrious ensemble, things get delightfully tangled for our heroes.

Though Bruce Willis has unceremoniously bowed out of the 'Expendables' threequel - co-star, director and franchise mastermind Sly Stallone outed him as being 'too greedy' on Twitter - he appears very comfortable as Frank - another aging hero well aware of the fact that he's long past his prime.

Thankfully, the light touch that made the first film work is sustained adequately enough by director Dean Parisot whose previous work includes the affectionate Star Trek parody Galaxy Quest and the Jim Carrey crime caper Fun with Dick and Jane. Galaxy Quest actually makes him the perfect candidate for a property like 'Red'. The action-comedy tightrope is harder to walk across than it may seem. It needs to ensure that while none of the plot is taken too seriously, the action still needs to be thrilling enough.

And just as Galaxy Quest managed to both make fun of an extol Star Trek and its fandom, with Red 2 Parisot manages to score more belly laughs than he misses, and to convince us that our protagonists are in enough danger for us to give a damn.

He's helped along by a zippy screenplay from Jon and Erich Hoeber, which loses no opportunity to turn a hoary spy genre trope into a joke (see: Victoria dissolving a corpse in the bath while dispensing relationship advice to Frank).

Together with memorable turns from yet more seasoned thespians - David Thewlis as a decadent thief and Brian Cox returning as a Russian ally - Red 2 is a rich repast which, however, is over before you know it and will not likely haunt you after you leave the cinema.

But surely, that's still a better deal than sitting through two-and-a-half hours of loud and ultimately disappointing gimmicks aimed squarely at the 12-17 market?

 

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