Combining tongue-in-cheek humor with outlandish gunplay and an everything old is new again mentality, the first “Red” became a sleeper hit back in 2010. Based on the comic series by Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer, the film followed a bunch of retired CIA agents in their golden years as they showed the uppity youngin’s how the old school did things. The gang is back for “Red 2,” a sequel that ditches the young vs. old dynamic that made “Red” a cut above the standard action film, making the sequel…a standard action film.
Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker and Helen Mirren all return, which finds them on the hunt for Nightshade, an experimental nuclear bomb created back in the ’70s developed by an insane Anthony Hopkins. Hot on their tail is a sadistic CIA bag man, a Korean hitman and the Russian ex-flame of Frank (Willis), played by Catherine Zeta-Jones without a hint of Russian dialect.
Dean Parisot, director of the 1999 “Star Trek” homage “Galaxy Quest,” knows how to a fun movie that winks at the audience. He should have been a perfect choice to take the reigns for Robert Schwentke, but the screenplay by “Red” writers Jon and Erich Hoeber, who also wrote the dud “Battleship,” is so lifeless and devoid of original ideas the entire film can’t help but sink under the weight of their bad writing. Things are so bland at one point David Thewlis (Professor Lupin in the “Harry Potter” series) shows up in a bit role looking so much like John Hodgman it takes a close-up to realize its Thewlist and not the deranged millionaire. Hopkins spouts out every cliched English professor line in existence, including “jolly good” and “cheerio.” Some bits rekindle the fun of the original, mostly thanks to Malkovich, who seems to have ditched most of his lines in favor of improvisation. Even Bruce Willis seems bored, forced to walk around acting emasculated because of Frank’s concern for his girlfriend. Without that clash of young and old, “Red 2” almost completely misses the mark, forgetting why the original was a surprise success to begin with.
“Red” was a sort of blast from the past, capitalizing on the impending retirement of many baby-boomers, showing that just because you were over 50 didn’t mean there wasn’t any gas left in the tank. “Red 2” is the morning after, limping along like a bad hangover until its time to go back to sleep.