With Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins. Written by Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber. Directed by Dean Parisot. Rated PG-13 for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material. 116 minutes.
As we learned in the first movie, “RED” stands for secret agents who are “retired, extremely dangerous.” In RED 2, retired operative Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is settling down for a life of domestic bliss with civilian Sarah Ross (Mary Louise Parker). However, Frank’s slightly deranged compatriot Marvin (John Malkovich) tries to drag him back into the game.
As in the first movie, Frank and Marvin are now freelance good guys who use their deadly skills in the interest of what’s right, not necessarily what the government wants done. In that sense it’s interesting to note that one of the chief villains of the movie is Jack Horton (Neal McDonough), who works for the Secretary of Defense. The plot has to do with a rogue nuclear device that was devised in 1979 by Dr. Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) as part of an unofficial plot to take out the Soviet Union. The device has gone missing and memos are now appearing on the Internet threatening to reveal the secret.
For reasons that are obscure until late in the film, word is put out that Frank and Marvin have thrown in their lot with international terrorists. The British put their old friend Victoria (Helen Mirren) to work ordering her to take them out. The Americans have hired an international hitman (Han Byung-hun Lee) for the same task. So now they have to uncover what’s really going on if they have any hope of escaping with their lives.
If you’re paying much attention to this plot you’re kind of missing the point. This is a violent action comedy, and the real story is the ongoing relationship between Frank and Sarah. Marvin acts like a Greek chorus, offering advice to the couple along the way, while the arrival of Russian agent Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones) spells trouble because she and Frank have a history. In Marvin’s words, she’s Frank’s “kryptonite.”
So everyone is working at cross-purposes, with Frank wanting to protect Sarah, Sarah wanting to get in on the “fun” of the spy caper while being jealous of Katja, and a mysterious figure known as “The Frog” (David Thewlis) who literally holds the key to the mystery. The action jumps around from a big box store to Paris to London to Moscow, and the bodies pile up quickly. Indeed, it’s a bit amazing this movie got a PG-13 rating given the level of violence. There is much, much more carnage here than in the R-rated “The Conjuring,” also opening today.
If you are able to treat the violence as simply cartoonish–knowing they’re just actors playing “let’s pretend”–then “Red 2” can be a lot of fun. As in the first movie, seeing an actress of the stature of Helen Mirren playing the action star and firing automatic weapons is a hoot. Indeed, the whole cast seems to be in the proper spirit of the proceedings, from a subdued Willis to Malkovich’s wacky Marvin to the eccentric turn by Hopkins. Parker gets to be the “everywoman” in the scenario, her character not trained for this sort of work but finding it exciting even when she’s clearly in over her head.
Yes, “Red 2” is another summer action movie, but with no superheroes in sight and special effects that don’t call attention to themselves, it’s actually a nice change of pace.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.