A good sequel should expand upon the original, going places where the original didn’t go and further exploring its characters. Lazy sequels seem to merely take everything good about the original, repackage it with new locales and new actors, and hope to hell that some of us won’t notice that it’s same movie all over again. Sadly, Red 2 falls into the latter category, taking nearly the same script but making it more of a worldwide affair, jet-setting from America to Paris to Russia to London throughout its duration. And when I say “nearly the same script,” I mean exactly that – writers Jon and Erich Hoeber cannibalize almost wholesale from their script from the first movie, dropping the same character and action beats into a new screenplay. However, they neglected to make it resonate or be memorable in any way by not giving it any of the original film’s heart or soul.
In the previous movie, we rather enjoyed seeing Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox, and Helen Mirren take on action roles that are normally played by kids half their age. You’d expect nothing less of the likes of Willis, having played one of filmdom’s most noteworthy action heroes, and we’ve seen the other men in gun-toting, high-octane thrillers. The surprise of all this was how Mirren makes a capable and worthy action hero, and – let’s face it – she looks wonderfully sexy firing automatic weapons in elegant dresses.
Willis, Malkovich, and Mirren all reprise their roles as Retired, Extremely Dangerous (hence, RED) ex-black ops agents trying like hell to stay retired, as one doesn’t often get a chance to grow old in this game. Banally enough, we find Frank Moses (Willis) and girlfriend Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) at a Costco in the film’s opening moments, barely giving us enough time with them before paranoiac Marvin Boggs (Malkovich) shows up and disquiets their idyll (and idle) life. Due to a document surfacing on WikiLeaks, these two men are soon back in the government’s crosshairs due to a coverup of a mission gone wrong back in the ’80s, which concerned a nuclear device built by one Dr. Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins). Smuggled into the former Soviet Union piece by piece, the device has now gone missing, and the world is being threatened by nuclear holocaust.
Wait… wasn’t the original film driven by a government coverup undertaken because of something that went wrong back in the ’80s? If these films are to believed, then Moses and Boggs are some TERRIBLE black ops agents; so far, two of their missions have kicked off worldwide manhunts for them because something didn’t work the way it should have. Either that, or it’s the fault of lazy screenwriting, which I’m more inclined to believe. The Hoebers don’t quite know where to focus their story, nor do they really give any one character anything to really sink their teeth into; I feel like everyone, from the director on down, was sleepwalking through this movie. Well, maybe not Mirren, as she gives it her all with her limited screentime. Malkovich, by contrast, gets almost as much screentime as Willis does, but instead of being the hilarious rogue paranoid delusional nitwit from the first movie, he’s essentially given the role of facilitator here, playing everything from chauffeur to airplane pilot. Newcomer to the series Lee Byung-Hun fills the Karl Urban role from the original – the government assassin sent to take down Moses and company, only to wind up being a part of the gang instead.
The real sin here is the duo of Frank Moses and Sarah Ross; one of them is a sweet-but-deadly former CIA agent, the other is a person who doesn’t listen to anyone and plays dumb to the point where the audience mockingly groans at her every move. Even though their relationship seems to be meant to be the centerpiece of the movie, they’re not at all fun, as they’re halfheartedly, kinda cutely bickering throughout the whole movie while trying to maintain some semblance of playing like they’re in any kind of danger. Throw in a dose of comic jealousy due to a former flame (Catherine Zeta-Jones) reuniting with Moses, and the stage is set for hilarity aplenty, wouldn’t you think? No. All actors are underused to a yawn-inducing degree, with director Dean Parisot not lending any liveliness to the proceedings.
When you think about great film sequels, it’s almost a given that the first few that pop into your mind are The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and maybe Friday the 13th Part III. These are films that delved further into the lives of the characters while having a distinct and memorable story to tell. Red 2 won’t ever make it on this list, and it may not even make it into your memory when it makes its splash on home video later this year.