The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Red 2

A good if not great success released back in 2010, Red was a good if not great summer-type blockbuster that earned almost $200 million worldwide. I liked it, a movie that was familiar but also really fun and action-packed. I can say I was pretty surprised to hear it was getting a sequel, but with all the duds out there, I wanted to give it a try, even if it was an unnecessary sequel. Here we go with 2013's Red 2.

Having survived the shady branches of the government trying to burn him (i.e. kill him), former C.I.A. operative Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) has moved onto a quieter life, moving in with his girlfriend and former customer service operator, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). Well, it was a quieter life. Friend, fellow former agent and all-around kook Marvin Boggins (John Malkovich) has tracked Frank down and is seeking his help. Dating back to a mission they accomplished in the early 1980s, an internet leak (hello, WikiLeak!) links them to placing a nuclear bomb somewhere in Moscow. There's a catch. Supposedly, it's still there, and a rogue government agency that's "interested in national security" wants to not only find the bomb, but kill Frank, Marvin and anyone with any knowledge of the bomb. Bringing Sarah along to protect her -- even though she's excited to come along -- Frank and Marvin (and some other friends along the way) hit the road looking to save millions and exonerate themselves.

Above all else, this sequel and its predecessor are what movies supposed to be. They're not great, they don't rewrite the genre, and at times, they're too schizophrenic for its own good. What are they then? They're a whole lot of fun, whole lot of action and a whole lot of talent assembled in the cast. Director Dean Parisot follows the same formula as the original, giving his retired agents (RED stands for Retired, Extremely Dangerous) an impossible mission to accomplish and letting them do so in multiple exotic locations around the world. Originally based on a graphic novel, some scene transitions reflect its background, the characters and action turning to animation with a quick blur to the next location. Even though it's a little long at 116 minutes, things never slow down long enough for it to actually be boring.

The biggest reason for the success here is that the cast is clearly having a lot of fun. That doesn't always translate, but in here it is definitely a positive. We're talking a talented cast here, Willis, Louise-Parker, Malkovich and Helen Mirren all returning from the first movie. There is an easy-going, friendly charm that brings the movie past its familiar, action-packed roots, another layer to appreciate. Willis as the very capable Moses is his usual action hero, but with a spin, a quasi-nerdy homebody who is the polar opposite of what you'd think a cold-blooded C.I.A. agent would be. Malkovich and Mirren are the best parts of the movie, legitimizing the movie just by being there, but also committing to their parts and having some fun. Malkovich's possibly unhinged Marvin is a scene-stealer, always ranting about conspiracies and plots for evil....except he's usually right. Mirren too is perfectly cast as Victoria, a very ladylike older woman who's also capable of pulling out the big guns to get the job done, doing her job and doing it well. It's a great, fun trio to lead the way.

What I noticed with this sequel is its got some touches of Sylverster Stallone's Expendables movies. You have your core cast, but then you fill out the rest of the parts with as much talent as humanly possible, and in this case with a lot of fun parts. Also returning briefly from the first Red is Brian Cox as Ivan, a former and now current love of Mirren's Victoria, with newcomers Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, David Thewlis and Neal McDonough all joining the story. I don't want to give too much away about the characters, each of them holding some good twists as the story develops. My favorite supporting part went to alum of the G.I. Joe series Byung-hun Lee, playing the Han Cho Bai, the world's best hired killer, this time hired to take out Moses and crew. It's a really entertaining part that is both dark and fun, his past history with Frank Moses and the ever-evolving killer/victim relationship developing with some fun jokes.

If there's a weakness in the cast, it's Mary-Louise Parker as Sarah, Frank's thrill-seeking girlfriend. She loves Frank, but she's also bored to tears with their new quiet home life. I saw a lot of movies this year, and I don't know if there was a more annoying movie character out there. The script really tries to involve her in the action, her oddball personality blending "well" with the group, but it tries too hard. She's supposed to be cute and quirky and adorable, but any dialogue involving her relationship (and its problems) with Frank can be painful to watch. It provides some good moments as Malkovich and Mirren offer solutions, but it's just window dressing on some painful moments.

The action is another thing here that surprises me. Red 2 is pretty violent, but because it's PG-13, it isn't as effective as it could be. I'm not always a proponent of graphic violence for the sake of the violence, but the on-screen killings, gunfire and explosions are pretty hardcore at times, making me question if a harsher, blood-splattered version wouldn't be a tad bit better. The action manages to blend that schizo, over the top stylish action with the harder, grittier shootouts, never going too long between sequences. It does give the cast some funny moments during these hellacious firefights, Frank at one point asking Marvin "Is that dynamite in your pocket?" to which Marvin answers "Yeah, I was saving it for an emergency." It's that type of goofiness that plays well in this action comedy.

Long story short....if you liked the original, you'll enjoy this follow-up. Not a classic, but very watchable and a good popcorn movie.

Red 2 (2013): ***/****

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