RED: Retread Extremely Delightful

Red 2
(USA, 116 min.)
Dir. Dean Parisot, Writ. Jon Hoeber & Eric Hoeber
Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung-Hun Lee.
Helen Mirren stars in Red 2
Courtesy of eOne Films
Growing old is a dangerous game. Hips break and knees crack. The expiry dates on coupons tick down like the timer on a bomb. Early bird dinners pose a race against time. If the old lady in the walker hobbles too slowly, take her out. There’s no need to get soft in old age: put a cap in granny’s ass and be done with it.

Red 2, a spirited follow-up to the sleeper hit of 2010, returns to the days of retirement for a group of golden oldies not yet ready to join the dinner rush at Denny’s. Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), for example, is a reluctant retiree. His days in the CIA left him labelled RED for “Retired: Extremely Dangerous,” so the golden years are a period of laying low and staying alive. Frank comes out of hiding when he makes a rendezvous with his old pal Marvin (John Malkovich) in the aisles of the most banal and American of places, Costco. Red 2, like the servings at Costco, provides thrills that are bigger and better than the average wholesale flick: it might not exceed the first Red, but Red 2 is just as fun as the original was, and it ups the ante with a bigger cast, bigger car chases, and bigger guns.
Courtesy of eOne Films / Photo by L Jan Thijs
Marvin’s appearance sends Frank back into action. Word is there’s a hit on Frank and his old ally, Victoria Woods (played by Helen Mirren), has been contracted by MI6 to do the job. The Americans, meanwhile, have hired Korean assassin Han (Byung-Hun Lee) as well. Frank embarks on a globetrotting spy game to ferret out the culprit behind a sensitive post on WikiLeaks that has stirred up all this anti-Frank animosity. Frank is aided by an odd and unlikely group of allies including his girlfriend, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), and former flame/KGB Kryptonite, Miranda (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

The retirees set guns a-fire all around the world as Red 2 provides solid action-comedy escapism. The stakes have never been higher for some of Hollywood’s greatest action stars and this tongue-in-cheek adventure proves that no actor is too old for any role and that no part is too odd a fit for an actor. Willis, for one, is lots of fun as Frank, the RED retiree most in jeopardy of becoming a crotchety old man. Willis still holds an action pic just as well as he did in the Eighties, but it’s far more entertaining to see him in action in a role that plays to his age. Even if Red 2 doesn’t surpass the original film, it’s far better than the two most recent Die Hard films combined.

While Willis performs more than comfortably as the aging action-hero, Red 2 might best be enjoyed by viewers who are trying new things in life. Dame Helen Mirren, for example, is a true novelty behind the trigger. The sight of the refined Academy Award winner packing heat and pumping lead will never grow old. One might want to send Mirren a copy of Breaking Bad as research for Red 3, however, since the audience’s introduction to Victoria sees Mirren disposing of a body using acid in a bathtub. (She does so in an evening gown and gloves, so she makes disposing of a corpse look much classier than Jesse Pinkman does.) The film’s final action sequence plays greatly to Mirren’s deadpan take on the stunt casting.

Willis and Mirren might have old-timers cheering during matinees, but every other scene of Red 2 is stolen by returning players John Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker. The two actors are the comedic relief to the straight men of Willis and Mirren, with Malkovich being especially zany as the flamboyant, eccentric, and trigger-happy Marvin. Parker looks to be having the most fun, as she did in the first Red film, being just the right bit off-the-wall as Sarah becomes attracted to her hubby’s exciting past. There’s also some amusing cat-fighting between Parker and newcomer Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is plenty fun as the film’s sultry femme fatale. The tension between Sarah and Miranda is especially meme-friendly.

Red 2 enjoys two other newcomers, Byung-Hun Lee and Anthony Hopkins. Lee, star of Korean hits like I Saw the Devil, offers an impressive find. Red 2 introduces a new action star to square off against the like of Willis, and lets him display his impressive physique and screen presence while holding his own against the veterans. Hopkins plays an aloof British research named Bailey who is locked in a psychiatric ward and is the gatekeeper for the information Frank seeks in relation to the WikiLeaks brouhaha. Bailey lets Hopkins chew the scenery with a healthy appetite.

Viewers need not have seen the first Red to enjoy Red 2, as the new characters take the film in a direction (slightly) different from the last. Red 2 starts with a jolt and moves at a pace that far exceeds typical geriatric running speeds. The old pros haven’t missed a beat. Red 2 provides an enjoyable rebuttal to the adage of old dog/new tricks, as it gives the summer one of its most entertaining escapes.

There’s hardly a passing reference to its predecessor, although this stylish production makes ample nods to the film’s graphic novel origins using some flashy scene transitions to bridge the scenes of comic book violence. It might be more of the same as it puts familiar faces in slightly new territory and shoot up a storm in another NRA-friendly flick, but this Red proves that retreads can be extremely delightful. As one studio tent-pole after another caters to the young and thuds both critically and commercially, Red 2 reminds us that sometimes the old pros are best left to deal with the heavy artillery. Lock 'n load, Helen Mirren, you’re the action star of the summer!

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Red 2 opens in theatres July 19th.