It was a great year for movies in 2010. Pixar put out their most mature film to date with “Toy Story 3,” David Fincher blew us all away with his masterful Facebook movie, “The Social Network,” we saw a completely different side of Natalie Portman in the haunting “Black Swan” and Colin Firth gave an unforgettable performance in the Best Picture Academy Award winner, “The King’s Speech.” But the year was also full of perplexing oddities, movies that gained a surprisingly large fanbase and a warm critical reception when they hardly did anything special. “Red” was one of those movies. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t particularly interesting either and, despite some minor improvements, “Red 2” is just more of the same, for better or worse.
Much like the previous film, ex-black ops CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is on the run, deemed a domestic terrorist by his own government, and, through some complicated plot structuring, on the hunt for a dangerous portable nuclear device that was previously thought to be nothing more than a Cold War myth. To help him, he enlists the help of his old buddies, Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren). It gets more complicated, however, when he learns that the world’s greatest contract killer, Han (Byung-hun Lee), is out to kill him, all while a former fling and Russian counter intelligence agent, Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), attempts to seduce him to fulfill her own ulterior motives, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker).
The best part of the original “Red” was not the action scenes, but rather the banter between the group. Watching these veteran actors play off each other is an absolute joy, but it was bogged down in the first film by what can only be described as pseudo-hipster dialogue, a lame attempt to spice the film up and cater to a younger demographic, despite the older cast. Thankfully, much of that is gone here while the witty banter remains. Malkovich is at the top of his game, eliciting laughs with the slightest of facial cues and many of the one-liners are undeniably amusing.
But the film never goes past that amusing state. “Red 2” is humorous, but it’s never really funny. It’s clever, but it’s never really smart. It’s lighthearted, but it merely teeters on the edge of being fun. The movie plays out almost like something that’s surprised it exists in the first place, rarely venturing beyond what barely worked in its predecessor and rehashing the same pleasant, yet unimpressive, style and tone. Where the film steps it up is in its get-to-the-point dialogue that does away with needless filler (like in the first movie when Morgan Freeman revealed he had stage four level cancer and then completely drops it, not unlike the breast cancer line in Tommy Wiseau’s infamous “The Room”) and in its varied action.
The first film was boring. It moved slowly and its action took place in some of the most clichéd places imaginable. Locations like a shipping container yard and parking garages were its highlights, giving it a feeling of a generic shoot ‘em up video game. Due to the nature of its story, “Red 2” jet sets all around the world (sometimes to an annoying and confusing degree), but it gives way to a number of various locales that were all but missing in the original. There’s a great hand-to-hand battle in an airport hangar, a suspenseful infiltration of the Moscow Kremlin and a terrific finale that takes place in the Iranian embassy in London. While much of the action is far-fetched (and if you want to see aging movie stars wielding giant weapons, you’re better off checking out the far more entertaining “Expendables” movies), it’s this diversity that keeps it interesting.
Although “Red” wasn’t an unpleasant movie, it was too bland and generic to stand out. “Red 2” has many of the same problems, but it fixes enough of them to make it the easy choice among the two. Certain scenes are so good, particularly the interesting new take on interrogations—turns out there’s no need for torture; just get the victim all hot and bothered by a beautiful woman and he’ll tell you everything—that they’re almost worth the price of admission alone. Luckily, there’s a bit more here than just random scenes that work. You still won’t care about what ultimately happens, but you’ll have a pleasant enough trip getting there.
Red 2 receives 3/5