Catherine Zeta Jones seems to be making a habit of appearing in the dumbed-down sequels to big, all-star franchises. First there was “Oceans 12,” and now there’s an utterly thankless role in “Red 2,” a stylish but empty follow-up to the original, based on the comic book about spies who are classified as “retired extremely dangerous.”
It was a lot of fun the first time around to see an over-the-hill-gang take on a spy story with an all-star cast that included Oscar-winners Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and Richard Dreyfuss along with Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, and Mary-Louise Parker. It was a lot of fun. This one, not so much.
Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest”) takes over as director from Robert Schwentke (whose new action comedy, “RIPD,” is also being released this week). Willis returns as Frank Moses, the once-top CIA operative with the American equivalent of a license to kill. He is now living happily ever after with Sarah (Parker), the woman he met on the customer support line and sort of kidnapped in the first film.
Happily ever after is a little boring for both of them. Shopping at Costco does not compare to the good old run-with-a-gun days. When Marvin (Malkovich), somewhat paranoid following years of CIA-sponsored LSD experiments, shows up to tell them they are in danger, Frank and Sarah are almost relieved. After all, she reminds him, he gets restless if he isn’t killing people (note: not saving the world — it is killing people he misses).
Parisot stages some nice fight scenes. The bad guy points out that it’s seven to one and Frank is in handcuffs. We know he will get out of it, but it is fun to see how he does it. It would be more fun with less carnage. Even if we were not living in a more sensitive time when it comes to the casual — even gleeful — treatment of senseless widespread slaughter, this would be over the top. Almost as bad is the uselessness of another death that adds nothing to the story.
The plot is not much — there’s a MacGuffin thing that could destroy the world and our heroes have been framed so they are being pursued as they try to save the day. Someone apparently did a Google search on what the best-protected international locations are and sent the RED team to break into them.
These always-watchable stars do their best. Helen Mirren is clearly having a blast as a cheerful assassin with a freezer full of bodies, especially when she gets to pretend to be a madwoman who thinks she is a queen, the role Mirren has played many times. Her “Hitchcock” costar Anthony Hopkins is a treat as a tweaked version of the fusty professor type he played in films like “Shadowlands.” Willis and Parker have palpable chemistry, which makes it all the more disappointing that they are stuck with dreary jealousy banter. Parisot tries to hide the script’s frequent sags with smartly-staged action scenes (the martial arts bouts with Byung-hun Lee, “G.I. Joe’s” Storm Shadow, are electrifying) and, less successfully, by having the characters chit-chat about relationship advice as they are chasing, shooting, and bombing. The AARP-eligible cast still has it. Next time, the MacGuffin they seek should be a better script.
Parents should know that this film includes constant action-style spy violence and peril with chases, crashes, explosions, guns, knives, martial arts, and a weapon of mass destruction. It has a casual attitude about a very large body count and a lot of property damage. There is also some strong language, drinking, drugs, and some sexual references.
Family discussion: What made some of the characters switch sides? What is the difference between following the rules and doing what is right?
If you like this, try: the original “Red” and “Hitchcock,” also starring Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Anthony Hopkins