Those who’ve allegedly drowned and been revived to tell their tale often relate an eventual embrace of their fate — a peaceful acquiescence after an initial panic.
No such freeing release awaits the surprisingly suffocating RED 2. It encases its forebear’s fleet feet in lead boots and plummets into a watery abyss, flailing its arms and destined for doom despite some herculean rescue efforts by John Malkovich.
He’s the only saving grace of the summer’s shoddiest action sequel so far, as reliably in on the joke as he was in the original. He seems to have thumbed through the script and wisely discarded it in favor of his own demented improv for his return as Marvin, a spy-spook turned paranoiac after years as a government guinea pig.
Oh, to have had more of a scene where Marvin, disguised for distraction, spins BS about wanting to defect to Iran. And it’s difficult to imagine an uproarious one-liner like “I knew she would play him like a banjo at an Ozark hoedown” coming from the same people who have Mary-Louise Parker refer to Catherine Zeta-Jones as “Slutlana” or “skanky Russian bee-yotch.” RED once stood for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous,” but now feels more akin to “Redundant, Extremely Disappointing.”
Malkovich aside, this is a churlish caper slapped together with utmost indolence by director Dean Parisot. He’s been released from movie jail after 2005’s rancid Fun with Dick and Jane remake only to immediately violate his parole.
Editing? Crummy. Continuity? Negligible. The focus is wormy and the framing wobbly. You can hear audible cuts in overdubbed dialogue. Alan Silvestri’s score is atypically lazy. Stunt doubles are laughably bad and subtitles are improperly punctuated. Papa John’s is pimped three times. (Between this, Man of Steel and World War Z, products aren’t just being placed this summer; they’re getting their own trailers.)
A mid-movie car chase wouldn’t pass muster in a Herbie movie. The inimitable Helen Mirren seems as dismayed to appear in two scenes accompanied by Linkin Park’s banal aggro howling as you will be to watch them. The climax’s final twist brings shame upon the very definition of “twist.”
Yes, RED 2 trades in the original’s sleek, crowd-pleasing horsepower for a high-mileage jalopy with little but sloppily filmed, generic action under its hood.
Gone is the amiable, sweet puppy love between retired black-ops CIA agent Frank (Bruce Willis) and former government automaton Sarah (Parker) that powered this film’s predecessor. The chemistry they created dissipates amid the dollars doled out to lure them back. Employing his smug who-cares smirk to fully depressing effect, Willis into his third-straight pay-up-buddy sequel of the year. At least Parker gets a couple chuckles before becoming a live-action Penelope Pitstop.
After surviving RED’s adventures, Frank is content to hunt Costco bargains instead of cold-blooded killers, and Sarah is slowly watching their relationship fizzle out.
RED allowed a bit of melancholy to slip in amid the action mayhem — laments for losing a step in life embodied even in the late Ernest Borgnine’s overgrown eyebrows. The context of RED 2 merely, meagerly mimics Mr. and Mrs. Smith and True Lies, using spycraft as a springboard to rekindled romantic sparks.
That starts when Frank and Marvin are framed as terrorists and murderers looking to blow the cobwebs off Project Nightshade — a revolutionary weapon of mass destruction that’s gone missing after three decades of safekeeping.
With Sarah in tow, they flee the CIA, Interpol and a trio of duplicitous assassins: Han (Byung-hun Lee), a Korean who can off a man with a paper crane and whom we’re reminded ad nauseum is “the world’s best contract killer”; Katja (Zeta-Jones), a Russian double agent and old flame of Frank’s repeatedly described as his kryptonite; and Victoria (Mirren, bored hitting the same damn note), whose friendship with Frank and Marvin may not be above a big bounty for their heads.
Meanwhile, Frank, Sarah and Marvin also try to spring Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), Nightshade’s creator, locked in an insane asylum since the ’80s with no marbles left. Of Hopkins’ arrival, well, you can guess he wasn’t cast just to play a doddering twit who goosesteps while saluting invisible cows. And his nattering-nabob dialogue suggests the Oscar-winning actor was paid by the syllable.
RED 2’s other newbies fare no better. Lee is a fine physical foe for Willis, but he’s saddled with misguided comic relief, like Jet Li playing Chris Rock’s role in Lethal Weapon 4. As for Zeta-Jones, she makes her entry wearing a crimson chapeau, and she’s about as sensuous as a Red Hat Society septuagenarian. Plus, she’s entombed in makeup that bears creepy resemblance to a Real Girl sex doll.
Finally, there’s a mid-shootout moment when Zeta-Jones unintentionally comes close to dropping her gun upon drawing it. So much of the movie feels that way, forever on the verge of collapsing into credit-cookie bloopers. It’s depressing to watch such once-likable characters and conceits sink to the bottom. Then again, they’d have been better dead than RED 2.