Same cats did the screenplay, same budget, but a new director helmed the second installment of this mayhem-for-smiles routine—which is in itself an indictment of our times.
Take a moment to contemplate that in the 1930’s and 40’s movies were black and white, just like the morals and the mores spoon fed the masses reeling beneath the one-two punch of the Great Depression and another Great war. By the 1950’s Technicolor was the thing, and Hollywood had to contend with that new upstart medium, television. Times were better for most, so films were less about hope and promise and more about maintaining the new and improved status quo against whoever threatened it—the communists, the mafia, the neighborhood bully. By the 1960’s the US was embroiled in its second no-win endless Asian war and folks were getting a bit fed up with the bullshit status quo. Enter the anti-hero. Fast forward beyond the disbelief fostered by a US president caught with his fist in the monkey trap to the next millennium, three middle eastern wars, no lessons learned beyond those of tactical warcraft, the affluence of the 1950’s squandered and we have films with entire casts of anti heroes, nonstop bedlam with bombs, bullets and car crashes, body counts beyond reckoning, and it is all intended to be funny. Talk about jaded…
2010’s RED is one of those films that warrants a second viewing, if only for the technical expertise of the composition, much like 1998’s DIE HARD, also starring Bruce Willis. And like its predecessor, RED threatens to spawn a franchise of formulaic and increasingly more nonsensical sequels. Similar to the second installment of the DIE HARD franchise, RED 2 remains very watchable, boasts a strong cast, and has much of the flair of the original, albeit the surprise element is necessarily weakened as the audience acclimates to John Malkovich’s silly wardrobe, the endless sequence of double and triple crosses, Bruce Willis’ clumsy attempts at romance, and the shoot-em-ups that seemingly occur like clockwork every ten minutes.
The chemistry between the cast members is the strongest element of the film. It is easy to believe the Bruce Willis character adores the Mary Louise-Parker character, that Mary Louise-Parker’s character is really likable and sexy, that Malkovich’s character has had maybe a hundred more LSD trips than was necessary, that the Catherine Zeta-Jones character really has carried a torch for the Willis character, that the Helen Mirren character is really a lovely person regardless of the fact that she is a complete psychopath, and so forth. The characters are allowed to breath, develop, and the actors assume their roles like the consummate professionals they are. One moment Anthony Hopkins steals the show as the whack-o weapons expert, and the next Lee Byung-hun’s kung-fu is the only thing that matters. David Thewlis steals every scene in which he appears as The Frog, Brian Cox is charming as always as the Russian envoy smitten with the Helen Mirren character, Neal McDonough serves adequately as the perfunctory CIA agent gleefully carrying out his lethal orders, and Tim Pigott-Smith makes a great stiff-upper-lip MI6 director looking to both make the best use of the Helen Mirren character as well as finding another excuse to terminate her. Unfortunately believing these characters makes every one of them predictable well before the end of the film.
All-in-all, RED 2 is a great excuse to stuff face with popcorn while enjoying air conditioning in the dark on a hot summer afternoon.
© Paul L. Bates, 2013