Film Review: Better 'Red' Than Dead

Sequel puts retirees back in action

Associated Press Photo/Summit Entertainment, Frank Masi
Helen Mirren reprises her role as a “wetwork” specialist in “Red 2,” a worthy sequel to 2010’s “Red,” about mostly senior citizen spies and assassins. The title is an acronym for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous.”

Photo by Frank Masi, AP2012

Associated Press Photo/Summit Entertainment, Frank Masi Helen Mirren reprises her role as a “wetwork” specialist in “Red 2,” a worthy sequel to 2010’s “Red,” about mostly senior citizen spies and assassins. The title is an acronym for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous.”

An action comedy with freeway pileups, helicopter crashes, stops in London, Paris, Moscow and Hong Kong and the detonation of a weapon created by a man nicknamed “the da Vinci of death” hardly sounds compact.

But in this summer of blockbuster bloat — this summer of “Man of Steel,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Iron Man 3” and “Star Trek into Darkness” — a thriller reboot/sequel that clocks in at a few minutes under two hours is almost a breath of fresh air (if that’s an appropriate term for a movie that kills off a planeload of soldiers with nerve gas).

Retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device. ...

Rating: PG-13 for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material

Length: 116 minutes

Released: July 19, 2013 Nationwide

Cast: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren

Director: Dean Parisot

Writer: Warren Ellis, Cully Hamner, Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber

More info and showtimes »

Witty and satisfying and a worthy follow-up to its 2010 predecessor, “Red 2” reunites most of the cast of “Red,” a sleeper hit that earned $90 million at the U.S. box office. A DC Comics production inspired by a limited-series comic book that debuted in 2003, “Red” was marketed not just to action aficionados but to moviegoers normally attracted to the less explosive likes of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”: The title was revealed to be an acronym for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous,” and the cast featured such relative old-timers as Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman (as the only character who didn’t survive for the sequel).

Directed with snap by Dean Parisot, who has worked mostly in television since helming the cult comedy “Galaxy Quest” in 1999, “Red 2” relies to a large extent on the charm of its wily cast, especially Malkovich as Marvin Boggs, a paranoid ex-”black ops” agent whose impersonation of a corpse represents about the only relief from a repertoire of pulled faces that Art Carney might envy.

This time, Marvin, retired agent Frank Moses (Willis), Frank’s relatively youngish non-spy girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), and British “wetwork” specialist Victoria (Mirren) are pulled into a complicated international roundelay of assassinations and conspiracies, motivated by a government attempt to cover up — or resurrect? — a Cold War initiative known as “Project Nightshade.”

Newcomers to the sequel, most of whom want to eliminate the series regulars, include Anthony Hopkins (used to perfection) as a possibly insane weapons scientist lauded as “a rock star of conceptual mass killing”; the always welcome David Thewlis as an oenophile information dealer known as “The Frog”; blond, blue-eyed Neal McDonough as a vicious U.S. agent whose face is so ruddy and shiny it seems swathed in Coppertone; and — in an appeal to the youth vote, as well as to Asian cult cinema fans — South Korea’s Lee Byung-hun as “the best contract killer in the world.” Also present is Catherine Zeta-Jones as a sultry Russian agent described as “Frank Moses kryptonite.” When she gets the best of Frank, Marvin observes, dryly: “I knew she would play him like a banjo at an Arkansas hoedown.” (The script is credited to brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber, who also wrote “Red.”)

Sadly if inevitably, the movie — already an over-the-top spoof — loses some credibility as the mayhem escalates during an unnecessarily chaotic final act. “Red 2” also annoys with the shamelessness of its product placement. Nevertheless, for most of its length, “Red 2” is pretty terrific, delivering exactly what it promises.

Having said that, let me add that I wish the film was not so gleefully gun happy and that it did not treat the loss of life entirely as a joke. (The MPAA attributes the movie’s PG-13 rating to, in part, “frenetic gunplay.”) “You can’t have a gun,” Frank scolds Sarah, a firearms amateur, early in the movie; “This is America, Frank,” objects Marvin, and the audience laughs. The line seems topical, and seems to be satirizing the current U.S. obsession with loosening gun laws; but, in fact, Sarah does get her gun, and she uses it — and the audience cheers. So maybe the joke — not a very funny one, after all — is on us.

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