In this sequel to 2010’s RED, when we're not in the midst of a car chase or shootout, we get wide-eyed looks of disbelief from Bruce Willis, comical mugging from the rubber-faced John Malkovich, and Mary-Louise Parker’s up-for-anything goofball of a girlfriend. Also back is the icy sexiness that is Helen Mirren. And a whole lot of nonsense.
RED 2 bounces its leads all over the globe, from the U.S. to Paris to Russia to England (twice) and Iran. Joining them are a chiseled Korean (Byun Hun Lee) with a contract to kill retired agent Frank Moses (Willis), Catherine Zeta-Jones’ sexy-but-deadly Russian, and a wily scientist played by Anthony Hopkins.
Whatever charm the first film had in depicting elderly black-ops agents being forced out of retirement, it’s nowhere to be found here. RED 2 makes its characters’ advanced ages irrelevant, opting instead to be a too-breezy actioner where Willis can somehow go toe-to-toe with Lee’s martial-arts-trained assassin.
The Maguffin for this silliness is a device called Nightshade, a weapon of mass destruction that went missing during the 1970s, and which has suddenly made the news via Wikileaks. Frank et al have to find Nightshade before it goes off. Or falls into the wrong hands. And because Frank and Marvin (Malkovich) have been outed as having helped plant it in Russia.
Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) displays a light touch, and keeps the action sequences (and there are plenty) relatively easy to follow. He also knows when to cut to a knowing look, which is usually worth way more than a spray of bullets. Many of those looks belong to Malkovich, who contorts his face with ease into nearly inscrutable expressions.
The film is a mélange of absurdity: the Papa John’s that provides access to the Kremlin; a rotary gun that can pierce just about everything but the humans behind it; and supposedly expert spies who might as well have given their travel itinerary to every single person trying to kill them, considering how easy they make it to be found. A bit of dialogue makes a big deal about breaking into a “prison within a prison” and then the movie stages it like nothing more than walking through the front door. For no good reason, Lee gets a blah martial arts scene that seems better suited to one of Luc Besson’s trashy Euro-action flicks.
RED 2 sports enough nick-of-time rescues to satisfy three movies. It’s never too long of a wait before someone pulls up in a car or blasts through a wall in time to save one of the good guys. Good guys that are usually — much like the bad guys — packing heat with a limitless supply of ammo. This would be a lot more fun if Parisot framed these knowingly as the silly tropes they are.