‘Red 2’ movie review: Bruce Willis and co. return for inferior sequel

Picture the movie that surrounds this cast: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, David Thewlis, Catharine Zeta-Jones. I’m thinking refined, Merchant-Ivory drama territory. But hey, I could watch them sitting around eating lunch.

No? They’re in a sequel to a Bruce Willis action movie that’s based on a comic book? OK.

That’s the joke, I guess, and it’s supposed to be fun watching this impeccable cast wade through the well-worn waters of comic book action. In other words, it’s a one-joke premise, and I had more than enough of it in the middling first film, though audiences seemed to respond to it better than I did, turning 2010’s Red into a mild hit. 

For what it’s worth, Red 2 is better written and staged than its predecessor, lighter and funnier, with more coherent action scenes and an expanded cast. And I still don’t give a damn. Take out the cast, and there’s just no movie here besides the usual-usual; we need something more

After the events of the first film, Frank Moses (Willis) is happily living the married life in suburbia with wife Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). But his help is needed: Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) pays Moses a visit in the hopes of bringing the former CIA agent out of retirement. Really? We’re going down this road? Again?

Why does Boggs need Moses? Well, there’s a hidden nuclear device somewhere and, yadda yadda yadda, the fate of the world is at stake. Yawn. Hey, it’s been at least two weeks since a world-is-at-stake blockbuster has come out. 

Returning from the first film are Mirren and Cox as (respectively) British and Russian agents who help Moses and co. on his quest. New additions include Zeta-Jones as a former lover, Thewlis as a French connection to the device, and Hopkins as the now-insane creator of said device who knows where it’s hidden. 

But despite all these big names, it’s Korean actor Byung-hun Lee (I Saw the Devil) who makes the biggest impression: as a top assassin out to get revenge on Moses, he has a couple of dynamite hand-to-hand fight scenes that serve as the film’s action highlights. Louise-Parker is also a delight, displaying a wonderful sense of comic timing that gets most of the film’s laughs. She’s a riot both here and in R.I.P.D.; here’s hoping she gets some better material next time around.

Bruce Willis was once one of Hollywood’s most reliable action stars, but since the release of the first Red way back in 2010 he’s made four (!) films so bad that they have barely received theatrical releases (Setup, Catch .44, Fire with Fire, and The Cold Light of Day), a career worst from director Stephen Frears (Lay the Favorite), and killed off the Die Hard franchise. (Not that it’s all been bad; Looper and Moonrise Kingdom were among the best films of 2012.) Red 2 may not offer much new, but it’s far from the worst the star has done in the past few years.

The film might also get the award for weirdest product placement of 2013. There’s an early scene where Moses spreads Pringles on the ground to hear the footsteps of approaching attackers – OK, that one is fine. But later on… you know how the jewel thieves always break in through the place next door? Well, here Moses and co. break into the Kremlin…through a Papa John’s. That’s right: the fast food pizza joint houses a secret tunnel into the Kremlin. 

While Red 2 is more than capably handled by director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest), working from a cookie-cutter script by Jon and Erich Hoeber, there’s little of interest here besides the cast. Still, you could do worse on a rainy afternoon. 


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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