Red 2 Review

Sometimes losing the humor can make it that much funnier.

Red 2, the sequel to 2010’s abysmal Red, hits theaters in wide release this week with a similar blend of action, comedy and ageism to its predecessor. However, new director Dean Parisot takes the tongue out of the film’s cheek and allows it to have fun.

Retired CIA Operative Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) leads a quiet life with his girlfriend Sara (Mary-Louise Parker) in a nondescript suburb, making the typical Costco runs of anybody stuck in such malaise. This is upset when Moses’ old colleague Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) turns up to spoil one Saturday shopping afternoon, warn Frank of danger and then fake his own death.

Boggs’ words turn prophetic when at his “funeral” Frank is apprehended by a CIA team led by Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) and accused of a wide range of crimes including nuclear terrorism, spurring from a classified document leaked a few days prior.

With the help of a “resurrected” Marvin, Frank escapes custody and sets off to clear his name and stop the real nuclear terror plot with his old partner and, much to his chagrin, his girlfriend joining him as they battle old flames, assassins and crazy villains to try to prevent nuclear war.

It’s a pretty straightforward action plot – our hero has to stop terrorism – with enough divergences to make it a comedy. Those divergences come from some unexpectedly delightful sources, mainly the outrageous comedic chemistry between Parker and Willis in the leads. It’s easy to see how Willis’ star first rose to prominence through verbal sparring on Moonlighting and he slips right back into that old comfort zone with Parker serving as an ideal foil as the newbie who’s just amused by this whole world.

The film’s supporting cast also shines here. From old characters – Malkovich is essentially the center of the circus as Boggs – to new characters – anytime Lee Byung-Hun as assassin Han tries to take out Frank Moses, it’s five minutes of perfect mayhem. A bevy of rich characters gives Parisot many weapons in his comedic arsenal and he deploys them with almost blanket precision.

Even with such a trove of great characters, it’s really the tone that makes Red 2 work where Red did not. While the former was very self-aware, overly subversive and too gritty to be fun, Red 2 is almost whimsical in the way it deals with violence and its aged cast of characters.

At no point does this film deliberately make a joke or seem to be doing commentary on itself and its genre right in the middle of a scene.  Instead, it populates a typically serious world with characters that are anything but, and lets them play and create situations that do nothing but put fun up on the screen. It doesn’t need snark; it doesn’t need sarcasm. The film has all it needs to mine its humor well by rooting the comedy in its characters and that pays out immensely in some of the bigger set pieces as the ludicrous juxtaposition of these seeming half-wits-cum-elite-soldiers with the situations they face is a comedic clash of context in the finest form.

The film does suffer with an overly complex plot. Double and triple crosses come from all corners as nothing is quite what it seems, and the film loses momentum as it has to sort through all the subterfuge created by all its twists and sacrifices the delightful comedic world it created as it gives way to spy tropes.

This keeps the film from being a truly wonderful summer action comedy and takes it down a tier into merely being a fun diversion from the heat and the CGI brooding that seems to dominate the big screen during contemporary summer seasons.

Of course, with a film this whimsical, fun is definitely good enough.