RED 2 “has all the makings of a Wednesday night movie when there’s nothing else on the telly” says MacDara Conroy
What’s the story with Bruce Willis? You know, the dude in the white vest jumping around a tower block yelling “Yippie-ki-yay motherfucker!” Yeah, that guy. Whatever happened to him? I mean, ever since The Sixth Sense, and arguably before then, he’s been phoning it in with roles only remarkable for his sheer lack of emotional investment, and his pained, squinty-eyed expression, as if he’s constantly forgetting his contacts. Watch his cameo in The Expendables (it won’t be two hours of your life you’ll never get back like the latest Die Hard sequel) and I challenge you to name anyone less arsed to do their job.
The one exception to the dreck that comprises his latter-day filmography is RED, the 2010 actioner inspired by the Warren Ellis comic series and based on the premise of old dogs like Willis’ retired CIA agent – and even older dogs Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox and Helen Mirren – getting up to new tricks and sticking it to the younger crowd (represented here by the underrated Karl Urban). Unlike The Expendables and its sequel, which spring from a similar if more macho concept, Willis’ laconic, almost catatonic personality as the Retired, Extremely Dangerous (hence the title RED, do you see?) Frank Moses actually works when he’s portraying a character grown weary of a life of high-risk black ops missions, who’d now much rather sit in a high-back chair and do a crossword, maybe watch Countdown or something. He’s a damn sight better cast than his would-be love interest Mary-Louise Parker, a woman too capable, too sassy for the damsel-in-distress role.
RED 2 picks up some time after the first one left off, with Willis’ Frank and Parker’s Sarah now a proper item, doing the things that well-bedded-down couples do, like shopping for homewares at massive warehouse stores. Of course it’s only minutes before the scenery-chewing John Malkovich – reprising his scene-stealing role as the Murdock-ish acid casualty Marvin Boggs – appears to pop their bubble of domesticity and pull them both (eagerly, in Sarah’s case) back into a world of subterfuge and shoot-em-ups. This time round, Frank’s been implicated in something called Nightshade, a secret operation during the Cold War to smuggle a nuclear weapon into the USSR. And the bounty on his head is a high one, with both Helen Mirren’s Victoria and Korean assassin Han Cho-Bai (Lee Byung-hun) contracted to take him out, and Neal McDonough’s heelish US operative Jack Horton hot on the trail. So begins the European Vacation-style chase from Paris to London to Moscow as our intrepid heroes attempt to uncover the truth behind Nightshade and run into the odd spot of bother along the way – whether it’s David Thewlis’ ‘information dealer’ The Frog, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ Katya (an ex-KGB agent and former flame of Frank’s, natch) or the brains behind the bomb, played with surprising pathos and nuance by Anthony Hopkins.
As an action movie it holds to formula with the required whizz-bang set pieces – a preposterous car chase through the streets (and pavements) of Paris and a minigun massacre filling the spots occupied by the first film’s ridiculous rocket attacks – but RED 2 flips the ratio in emphasising the characters’ relationships above the action. And that’s a fatal mistake. Sure, the first flick bubbled along nicely with a good-natured comical camaraderie between its leads, but well-drawn characters with depth and substance they were not. RED 2 presupposes too much affection for these people we barely know beyond their stereotypes, as if we’ve been following their lives like regulars on Corrie. As a result, the lengthy gaps between the budget bang-bangs are conspicuous, as are the grey skies of autumnal Europe that dampen the mood, quite the opposite of its predecessor’s sunshine holiday vibe. The Bourne movies could get away with all that cloud cover because the action and tension were almost non-stop; no such luck here.
In fact its surprising how little really happens, despite all that stuff moving about on the screen, bombs and guns and famous faces and shit. While it’s a passable watch overall that won’t prompt you to throw your popcorn in disgust, it’s not particularly memorable either. You’ll probably forget half of it by the time you get home, and you certainly won’t be quoting any lines at your friends. No “Yippee-ki-yay” for old time’s sake from ol’ Brucie, sigh. Not one to rush out and see on the big screen, then, or even rent or download a few months from now, RED 2 has all the makings of a Wednesday night movie when there’s nothing else on the telly.