Saturday, July 20, 2013

“RED 2” – Beating the odds.

The two common reactions to an announcement that a sequel is coming out are either genuine excitement or derisive eye-roll. The reaction that occurs usually depends on whether or not the movie should even have a sequel. It should go without saying that no romantic comedy should ever have a sequel (think Legally Blonde and Miss Congeniality). Actually, I’m not sure any comedy of any kind should have a sequel (I’m looking at you, Hangover guys and Adam Sandler). Inevitably, comedy sequels end up rehashing the same jokes and storylines that made the first movie so great, but make the sequel redundant and annoying. Or, in the case of romantic comedies, invent reasons for the happy couple to become unhappy, resulting in a movie that is far more awkward than funny. What’s more is that most movies don’t need a sequel because their stories are over. On the other hand, action movies lend themselves very well to sequels because everyone wants to see the hero kick ass again. This doesn’t mean all action movie sequels are good (there isn’t enough room to list all the bad ones here), but it does mean the audience won’t mind the redundancy so much – which brings me to Bruce Willis.

Willis seems to love sequels. Not only has he done sequels to his own movies, but he’s had no problem participating in other sequels as well. He’s appeared in eleven sequels (counting RED 2) and his next two movies are sequels as well. But, the one that is most relevant to RED 2 is The Whole Ten Yards. Going into RED 2, my biggest concern was that it was going to be just like The Whole Ten Yards, i.e. a sequel train wreck. By doing a quick comparison of the two movies, it’s easy to justify my concern. Both movies are action/romantic comedies featuring Willis as a retired killer and both begin with Willis trying to play the domesticated suburbanite while his love interest wants the excitement his past life exposed them to. After the first few minutes of RED 2, in which Frank (Willis) and his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), are shopping at a Costco, my fear seemed to be coming true. In fact, the only real difference was that RED 2 didn’t feminize Frank’s balls off the way The Whole Ten Yards did to Willis’ Jimmy Tudeski.

(Mild spoilers ahead, though I promise not to reveal anything that will ruin the movie for you.)

Just as I was preparing myself for RED 2: The Whole Eleven Yards, John Malkovich showed up to steer the movie away from that shit-tastic road, igniting the plot of the movie by blowing himself up. You read that right – he blows up his own car while he’s still in it. Not only is this exactly the kind of thing his character, Marvin, would do (he believes people are after them again), it’s the perfect way to put the brakes on the ridiculous notion of Willis returning for a second helping of homemaking; a notion that is not only annoying and uncalled for, but not even useful as a comedic backdrop.

We soon learn that a secret document was leaked on the Internet tying Frank and Marvin to an old mission called Operation Nightshade, in which they helped a scientist smuggle a nuclear bomb into Moscow. Now, people are racing to get their hands on the weapon, which means they are trying to get their hands on our trio. They start following up old leads and sources to discover the identity of the leaker and stop the people trying to get the bomb. Returning to help out at various points throughout are Victoria (Helen Mirren) and Ivan (Brian Cox), as well as a new arrival to the film, Russian spy Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom Marvin refers to as “Frank’s Kryptonite.” Standing in their way are two assassins sent to kill them by the U.S. Government – Jack (Neal McDonough) and Han (Lee Byung-hun). At the adventure moves from location to location, the cast eventually rounds out with Anthony Hopkins, who plays the scientist from Operation Nightshade. Yes, the plot unfolds much like that of the first RED, but as I said earlier, we don’t really care; we’re just glad they took the time to write a plot at all and a good one at that.

The reason we don’t care (aside from the ass-kicking) is that everyone in the cast is at their very best. Willis continues to be the gold standard of snarky action heroes firing guns. Parker is as charming as ever and visibly enjoying her herself throughout the film. Mirren is impossibly believable as a stone-cold assassin. Byung-hun provides the requisite martial arts action while pulling off some great deliveries of his own. Neal McDonough follows in Karl Urban’s assassin’s steps from the first movie by delivering an assassin who is indifferent to killing, but slightly more vicious about it. Malkovich provides the comic relief and bits of wisdom as he guides Willis toward a happier future with Sarah and away from death. Finally, Anthony Hopkins is Anthony Hopkins.

At this point, it should be clear that RED 2 is not the dumpster fire that was The Whole Ten Yards. It navigates the sequel clichés nicely and avoids becoming a slog of redundancy and action. If you noticed in the last paragraph that I left out Zeta-Jones, it’s because she was neither good or bad and really wasn’t in the film enough to make any kind of difference, other than to provide a motivation for Sarah to prove her capabilities as a spy. If there’s anything we can take away from this film it’s that sequels don’t have to be crappy remakes of their predecessors and Willis doesn’t have to say yes to every sequel thrown his way. That’s how bad things like G.I. Joe:Retaliation happen to good actors.

Rating: Worth every penny – and if you plan on seeing Grown Ups 2, it’s worth that money as well.

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