Red 2 (2013) is the sequel to 2010’s Red. It should not be confused with Red Foo, which is the name of the lead singer of the techno novelty band LMFAO. Red Foo wears fur coats and leopard print tight pants and would probably like this movie because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s something endearing about Red 2 that wore me down and won me over. Here has to be the silliest movie of the year, a big dumb action piece for which the word slight was invented. The great thing is that the movie recognizes this and goes with it, giving the impression of being made up on the spot and that no suggestion was turned down. For a movie that features quinquagenarians or older as the main cast, it feels like it was created by alert teenage boys, complete with cartoon elements like a man wearing a hat made out of tropical fruit. What this sensibility is up against is basic movie logic of consistent characterization and tone, also good taste as the cavalier attitude of the characters and the filmmaking isn’t extended to the plot which concerns no less than the prospect of nuclear holocaust and the deaths of millions. Such a laissez-faire outlook would be offensive in most cases (and I had times when it looked like we were going there) but at a certain point Red 2 convinced me to join the nuts and watch the world burn.
Bruce Willis returns as Frank Moses, an ex-operative who spends his time with Marvin (John Malkovich), another retiree from the business who is paranoid and a little off (it’s Marvin who ends up in the tropical fruit hat). Lately, however, Frank has been spending most of his time with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) whom he loves and wants to protect, which means he can’t do the things he used to, like large-scale assassinations. He’s ok with that but it’s actually Sarah, a civilian, who wishes Frank could be his virile old killing self. She’s in luck because soon Frank finds himself framed and wanted as an international terrorist and hunted down by the American agencies lead by Horton (Neal McDonough), the British MI6 and their top agent Victoria (Helen Mirren), an old friend of Frank’s, and the deadliest hit man in the world Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee), who wants to collect a huge bounty on Frank but also to settle a score (Frank put him away years ago).
Frank, Sarah and Marvin go globetrotting to clear his name and discover a plot afoot to explode a nuclear bomb in a large city. Into the fray is a former lover of Frank’s, Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a Russian agent and Ivan (Brian Cox), her superior and a former flame of Victoria’s.
Then there’s Professor Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), who was a brilliant weapons physicist during the Cold War and has lost his marbles a little bit, so much so that he’s confined in a loony bin. He has not lost his taste, however; as our heroes alight upon him listening to a lovely aria from Cosi fan Tutte. It would be nice to have a character in a movie who was both an opera fan and not a lunatic but we’ll take what we can get.
Before everything is resolved many, many bullet shells will hit the ground, exemplified in one scene in which Han takes a vehicle mounted machine gun and takes no fewer than a thousand shots at Frank and Marvin (injuring neither). This type of excess is par for the course in Red 2 which, strictly speaking, glorifies violence and makes it seem as if only harms anonymous soldiers we don’t care about. Most of the characters take turns volleying glib lines during the most extreme of circumstances, lines that, considering the lives at stake, seem almost psychotically insensitive. The movie is built on shifting sands in which the next funny thing someone can say trumps the logic if whether or not that person (or any person) would say it. Sarah, in particular, is so bipolar she’s a danger to herself and those around her. Oscillating between three attitudes in regards to the carnage around her, she goes from gung ho enthusiasm, cutesy inexperience to genuine terror. Frank, who vows to protect her, takes her everywhere and into the most danger when there is adequate time to hide her somewhere out of the way. The movie has one of the most shameless moments of product placements I’ve ever seen in a movie, as a Papa John’s employee, tied and bound is slapped in the head, moving his head so that the slogan “Better ingredients, better pizza” can be more legible to the audience.
Yet, somehow it all works in a low-art symphony of tongue-in-cheek exuberance. I’m not convinced that the movie wants us to buy anything that its selling and as a result we don’t and remain unoffended (though, ultimately, we are also left unenraptured in the way that requires more thought from a movie). This is faint praise but it’s a faint movie and there’s nothing wrong with that, just nothing particularly right either.