Even when junk food has expired, sometimes it’s so freakin’ delicious that you can’t help eating it anyway. Certain sugary snacks have enough flavor, that they are totally worth the digestive consequences later. Dean Parisot’s action comedy “Red 2” is exactly like one of those treats: an old Twinkie that you just can’t deny yourself.
Actually, a more apt analogy in this case, is probably an irresistible ancient Moon Pie, because there’s a scene in “Red 2” where Marvin (John Malkovich) literally dusts one off for consumption. When someone gives him an incredulous look, he shrugs, saying “It was before they had expiration dates,” and then he chows down. As a viewer it’s easy feel a lot like Marvin with this film. You know you shouldn’t be ingesting it, yet the picture is entertaining enough that you gorge on it anyway, ignoring what should be a stale shtick.
This sequel to 2010’s “Red” once again brings former spy Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and his wacky band of geriatric assassins out of retirement. Frank and Marvin are falsely accused of participating in a Cold War plot involving a nuclear device called Nightshade, that disappeared after it was smuggled into Russia. As you might expect, they go on a mission to find out what really happened to the bomb and clear their names in the process. Of course that won’t be easy, since the world’s best contract killer (Byung-hun Lee) is on their tail and their friends have been tasked with eliminating them as well.
Just like its predecessor, much of humor in this action comedy comes from the cheeky rapport between its pals and the fact that these characters are unexpectedly formidable despite their age. A schtick that should be worn out because of the first film, still generates a fair amount of laughs, thanks to the talented cast, which includes returners Helen Mirren and Brian Cox, as well as entertaining new players like Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough, and David Thewlis. The majority of their acting in “Red 2” is complete scenery chewing, although thankfully it’s easy to swallow.
John Malkovich is arguably the best part of this film. Not only does he provide comical advice to Frank, but he receives the silliest lines and uses bizarre facial expressions to convey a plethora of comedic sentiments. Mirren is delightfully funny too as the brutally efficient killer Victoria whose sweet exterior is the perfect camouflage for her true talents. Her affair with Ivan the Russian (Brian Cox) carrying over from “Red” is still quite amusing, because even though Cox is only in the movie for a spell, he dominates his scenes with suave, oily charm.
“Red 2” isn’t quite as hilarious or as novel as the first movie, which is disappointing. It’s also not terribly inventive from a visual standpoint and the conspiracy at the heart of its story isn’t adequately fleshed out. The only noticeable stylized elements in it are a cell-shaded animated intro, large red titles denoting location, and freeze frame transitions where characters turn into comic book drawings. Considering that the series is based on a comic, it’s sad that there aren’t as many outlandish brawls in this one, like the pistol/RPG fight in the prior flick.
Even with those complaints, “Red 2” is still worth watching because it’s a breezy, action-packed romp with excellent performances. If for no other reason, you should see it because it features actors with fantastic chemistry having fun together. Their contagious enthusiasm makes you feel like a welcome part of their bizarre family of assassins.
My Grade: B...as in Basically a Decent Film. Brought Down by a Some Bad Things.