Bruce Willis is fast becoming the poster boy for retirement-refusal – his Die Hard franchise is perhaps growing a little flaccid but there is no denying the man’s commitment to kicking ass as he draws closer to the big 6-0. In 2010 he good-naturedly embraced the comedy potential of his position and – together with Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman – was classified Retired Extremely Dangerous aka RED.
RED – based upon the Warren Ellis/Cully Hamner graphic novel – was an entertaining ride, modelled after classic ‘30s screwball comedies, it delighted in offering opposition to the OAP stereotype and made reasonable use of its exemplary cast. Now the team have reunited for another caper: this time they are on a quest to locate a deadly device that has gone astray. The next-generation gadget, nicknamed ‘Nightshade’, has the potential to shift the balance of world power and is being sought by some of the most lethal players in the game. International terrorists, corrupt governments and relentless assassins form a queue for the device which congas around the globe – across Paris, London and Moscow – forcing the RED team to put their lives on the line to save the world. Again.
Life has moved on for the RED crew as swiftly as technology has. Frank (Willis) is gradually adapting to life with his leading lady, and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) is trying to believe that domestic bliss is an adequate alternative for the roller-coaster life they have left behind. Okay so Frank is too paranoid to eat any food that hasn’t been prepared at home and Sarah would gnaw her own arm off for another adventure but hey, no one’s life is perfect.
Ever the master of timing, Marvin (Malkovich) reappears with a tempting offer and a chance to right a wrong against a trusted colleague. Could Nightshade reignite the passion between Frank and Sarah or have they become too pedestrian for peril? Is this mission the push the boys need to move on with their lives? They are all too familiar with the destructive potential of a weapon like Nightshade – many important men suffered a difficult Cold War after its loss, now the consequences of that loss have put team RED firmly between the crosshairs.
Mirren’s Victoria is in a rather problematic position – MI6 have tasked her with taking her old compadres out. Has love softened her steely will or will she see the job through? Should her trigger finger falter, Han (Byung-hun Lee) has a personal matter to settle with Frank and a convenient contract with a power-crazed official to fulfil. With a missing scientist, a relentless hit man, Marvin’s funeral and a blast from Frank’s romantic past complicating their already dramatic lives, refusing those pension cheques could prove to be their most fatal decision yet.
The RED franchise is an undeniably likeable one – all madcap antics and A-Team action – however there is something lost in translation from screen to page. Perhaps Mr. Willis tires of always saving the day, perhaps his purported chemistry with his leading lady leaves something to be desired, whatever the reason there is a lack of soul to RED 2 which is disappointing. It struggles to quite grab the viewers’ undivided attention, despite its tendencies to entertain tremendously. The female roles too are unforgivably underwritten – flimsy 2D facsimiles of feisty chicks. Though Mirren’s Victoria is enchantingly naughty (see her unique way of doing laundry for a prime example), one cannot help but suspect she had a hand in fleshing out her role because both Parker and Catherine Zeta-Jones have scant opportunity to hit such comedic and dramatic highs.
Glamour puss Zeta-Jones joins the cast as Russian double agent Katja – Frank’s kryptonite ex. She immediately takes against his wholesome new love interest and contrives to seduce Frank out from under her. Sarah, fuelled by jealousy – and a desire for payback beyond maxing out Frank’s credit cards – becomes something of a femme fatale herself. She drops jaws in the Paris apartment of group target The Frog (the fantastic David Thewlis), when she reveals her new interrogation ‘technique’ to the room. It does get results though and the effect on Frank is immediate.
The trouble is that Katja’s entire character is surplus to requirement. Perhaps she is to serve as a female counterpoint to Byung-hun Lee’s brilliant poker faced assassin, yet it seems facile to write in a role for a woman to play simply for the sake of a little more skirt in the room. It doesn’t help that she plays her with an odd lip quiver/pout but she may have grown as bored of Katja as the audience do. Parker’s Sarah suffers from the insufficiently fleshed out writing too. She ought to have been the kick ass yin to Willis’ yang – peppering him with one liners and smarts in the true screwball comic style. Instead she is left to flounder as a big screen New Girl, a Manic Pixie Dream Woman with dead eyes and a kooky kilt.
RED 2 is a gleeful, trashy romp of a thing – an ‘80s TV show for a 2013 audience. It has all the ingredients you could wish for in an easy summer comedy, just don’t look too hard for a heart or you’ll come away with yours sinking. It is satisfyingly silly with well choreographed shoot ‘em up gunfights and a fabulous new pantomime baddie whose identity is best left withheld. Fun cameos, creative deaths, zero bloodshed AND Dame Helen Mirren? Daft and predictable RED 2 may be, but it’s still pretty damn cool.