July 18, 2013



RED 2:  Watch It At Home – Less Fizz in the Drink This Time

The first RED was a disarming surprise, a rom-com action adventure about retired but very lethal spies as bubbly as it was explosive.  It made almost $200M at the worldwide box office, and while that’s not quite Expendables money ($274M worldwide), RED was cheaper to produce.  All of this made a sequel (and, the studio hopes, a franchise) inevitable, and so now we have RED 2, which not so surprisingly repeats the same tricks to somewhat diminished effect.

It’s still fun, though.  All our old (and I do sorta mean old) pals are back, starting with Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), the ex-CIA assassin who’s constantly being pursued by his former allies and enemies.  Frank is now in a real relationship with former bureaucrat Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker, her screen time beefed up), and at his insistence they’re trying to have a normal life, complete with visits to Costco, even though the excitement of Frank’s exploits was what attracted Sarah in the first place.  She’s delighted when paranoid crazy-person Marvin (John Malkovich) comes back into their lives with the news that Frank is a target yet again, this time because of an old project that involved sneaking a super-weapon into Cold War Russia.

The McGuffin hardly matters, as before long the trio is roaming the world, barely a step ahead of their stalkers, who include Korean hit-man Han Jo-Bae (Lee Byung-Hun), old flame Katja (franchise newcomer Catherine Zeta-Jones), her cheery Russian comrade Ivan (Brian Cox), and of course the deadly Victoria (Helen Mirren).  All roads eventually lead to scientist Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), who’s gone very mad–he’s in a high-security mental ward when they find him–and who naturally knows more than he initially admits.

RED 2 is about as relaxed as a movie with a body count that must number in the scores if not hundreds can be.  The seniors greet each other with fond nicknames and bemused memories when they’re not trying to kill each other (and sometimes even when they are), and saving the world is something that can be done after tea and some chat.  Willis has always been first-rate at combining smart-aleck humor with gunfire, and if he’s trying a little less hard this time, that’s made up for by Parker, adorably enthusiastic about constantly being at risk of being blown up, and Mirren, who brings her own brand of majestic cool to her assassinations.  Hopkins doesn’t quite fit in with the gang, partly because of his role, and partly because he’s all too visibly working at it while everyone else is laying back.  Neal McDonough is an effective new bad guy, and David Thewlis contributes a nice bit as a wine connoisseur with some important information.

The script, by Jon and Eric Hoeber, insists on slowing down the fun for exposition and cliched reversals that aren’t remotely shocking, and with Dean Parisot behind the camera (Robert Schwentke directed the last one), there’s less stylishness and more emphasis on routine action sequences.   RED 2 is a retread instead of a delight, and the element of surprise is gone; perhaps an attempt to deepen some of the characters or offer up new facets of their personalities could have kept things fresh, but that doesn’t happen here.  In other words, it’s a Hollywood sequel.  Nevertheless, this is still a fine group to spend a couple of hours with, and while RED 2 isn’t worth a trek to the multiplex, it’ll do just fine for a cable or streaming evening’s entertainment.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."