Nobody in their right mind would mistake 2010's RED for high art. The film was a harmless, mildly entertaining caricature of a summer blockbuster that provided a fair amount of laughs and a hefty amount of explosions. Any notion of plot played second fiddle to graphic absurdity, but it at least bumbled about with a little bit of charm and charisma.
Its inevitable successor, RED 2 (the acronym stands for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous,” per the comic-book source material), is, instead, a caricature of a caricature, one that revels in its lack of substance to the point of phlegmatic disinterest.
The film revisits retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis, A Good Day to Die Hard), who, after successfully exposing his assailants in the original, opts for a somewhat bolder undertaking: saving the world from nuclear demolition. Because, you see, the U.S. snuck a warhead into the heart of Moscow during the Cold War, and now everyone and their mother (or, in this instance, grandmother) wants a piece of it.
So, naturally, Moses gets the ol' gang back together — including the marvelously half-baked Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich, Warm Bodies) and sultry sharpshooter Victoria Winters (Helen Mirren, Hitchcock) — for a good-old-fashioned world-savin'. Former call center employee and Moses' main squeeze, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker, R.I.P.D.) tags along for all the fun once again, because who wouldn't want in on all that action?
To be perfectly honest, one couldn't be faulted for forgetting the plot the moment he or she walks out of the theater; it's just not that memorable or even important. RED 2 is about gags and action sequences — no more, no less. The problem is that, when compared to its predecessor, the film falls short in both departments.
For starters, director Dean Parisot (Fun with Dick and Jane) seems to have fed even more LSD to Marvin in the time between films, reducing a once-endearing (if somewhat clownish) character into nothing more than an empty charade.
Newcomers Han (Lee Byung-hun, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Side Effects) don't offer much in the way of substance, either. Han — purportedly the top contract assassin in the world — struggles mightily when pitted against grandpa-in-chief Moses. Meanwhile, Russian seductress Katya meddles into Sarah and Moses’ feigned relationship, evoking little to no emotional investment in the process.
Dr. Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock) offers the most intrigue because, well, Hopkins is really good at playing a crazy guy. His portrayal of the brilliant yet dishonorable physicist and creator of the elusive nuclear warhead is the most credible of the bunch, but it isn't enough to save us from the metaphorical mushroom cloud that is RED 2.
Ultimately, the sequel fails to clear what was an already low bar. Devoted fans and lovers of filth are sure to relish its easy guffaws and indulgent booms, yet any moviegoer with even the slightest reservation is sure to relinquish all interest in the series. This much is clear: If Frank Moses decided to hang it up, he'd be doing the world a bigger favor. —Zach Hale
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