Published Jul 18, 2013When Red 2 opens, retired black-ops C.I.A. agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is standing in a Costco discussing the benefits of buying a power washer for the deck with girlfriend Sarah (Mary Louise Parker). She's bored; she's uninspired by the banality of domesticity, shoving caramel corn in her face to compensate for the emotional and visceral void left after the action of the original Red movie ended.
Enter Marvin (John Malkovich), Frank's best buddy and ex-partner in political espionage and malfeasance, babbling about a new global conspiracy they need to get involved with. Sarah is thrilled; Frank is not. He wants to protect her and live a normal life, but she wants to escape that existence, having led it for 40-plus years.
These conflicting character arcs are the extent of the subtext and thematic complexity of Red 2. After a car bomb takes out Marvin, Frank is framed for terrorism, which involves a red mercury-powered warhead made in the late '70s, and winds up running from resident baddie Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) and two hired killers: Victoria (Helen Mirren) and the much younger assassin du jour, Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee).
This sets up the chase, wherein Frank and Sarah try to hunt down the nuke before they're caught and killed, which propels the mostly incidental plot. Fortunately, amidst this, fuelled by the array of well considered, hilariously contradictory characters, is an abundance of great one-liners and entertaining exchanges and trajectories, such as Sarah's tendency to make-out with everyone the gang interrogates as a mode of avoiding violence.
The action, while serviceable, is comparatively lethargic in the context of modern blockbusters, but where Red 2 excels is in idiosyncrasy. When Victoria calls Frank to advise him that she plans on killing him, she's pouring acid onto a dead body and asks him how his relationship is going, recommending renting Dirty Dancing as a way of dealing with their emotional hiccups.
Complicating their domestic woes is the arrival of Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a Russian agent that Frank used to get pelvic with. This gives Sarah an opportunity to act bitchy and jealous while also allowing the plot to have playful interruptions and deceptions when the ex-lovers temporarily gang up to acquire the nuke, before having a difference of opinion about which (if any) government should physically keep it.
Though all political discussions are exceedingly vague, eschewed largely in favour of the overplayed, "old people can't be world class spies" routine, this sequel delivers the same tone and comic appeal that worked so well for the original.
As such, it's an entertaining enough diversion, doling out equal parts kookiness and zaniness, but has no relevance or intelligence beyond this. However, in not being outright bad, Red 2 manages to surpass most of its mainstream counterparts. (eOne)