It’s not easy to make a good sequel. Even when the original film is something like Red, a decently entertaining if mostly forgettable action comedy, you’d think maybe the room for improvement would make it easier. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Maybe a new writer steps in or (as in this case) a new director takes the helm. Maybe the cast doesn’t all want to come back. Maybe it’s just hard to capture the magic or the tone of the original a second time through. Whatever the case, sequels are a bit of gamble from a quality standpoint, and sadly, Red 2 ends up with a losing hand.
The gang’s all back again along with some new faces from the over-the-hill-but-still-kind-of-A-list-actor club. Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is trying to settle into a calm, comfortable, safe life with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), but Marvin (John Malkovich) keeps trying to pull him back in to espionage. Things start spiraling out of Frank’s control when Marvin goes so far as to fake his own death, and Sarah desperately wants to be along for the ride despite Frank’s best efforts to keep her out of it. They have no choice but to dive back in to the spy world when documents describing an old Cold War bomb project leak on the internet. Suddenly all the world’s intelligence agencies are after them, and Frank, Marvin and Sarah have to stick together to stay alive, find the bomb and save the world.
It’s unfair to solely compare a sequel to it’s original, but when the sequel fails it’s hard not to talk about what worked the first time around and what doesn’t work here. Unfortunately, one of Red 2’s biggest failings is that it’s just not funny. Oh sure, there are a few chuckles to be had throughout, but ultimately a lot of of the shtick just comes off cheesy rather than actually funny. That would be a flaw whether this film was a sequel or not, but it’s especially bothersome when the humor was such a big part of what made the first film entertaining. But a film needs to stand and be judged on it’s own, and Red 2 simply doesn’t fair well.
The plot is also problematic in that it feels like the same old action film plot you’ve seen for a dozen other movies, left cold in the refrigerator for too long until the screenwriters decided to half-assedly try to reheat it. The results, as you might expect, are not great. It should be noted that these are the same guys, brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber, who wrote the screenplay for the first film, a script that did have some punch and creativity to it and one that made for an enjoyable film. But the plot of Red 2 meanders from point to point with the expected crosses and double crosses and the literal ticking time-bomb trying to squeeze any last bit of tension out that it may have. It’s not that these elements can’t be hacked up and re-used, after all, how many different ways are there to put the planet in peril, but it requires a degree of effort and creativity that are just plain lacking from this film. This directly leads to Red 2 committing the cardinal sin…it’s boring.
There’s also a weird spotlight on the relationship between Frank and Sarah. It’s not that their relationship can’t play a part in the film, it obviously should, but there’s so much time spent on it that it almost seems like they set out to make a romantic comedy instead of an action comedy. The action is like garland on a Christmas tree, something pretty to look at, but not the main focal point. It’s an odd choice and it doesn’t do the film any favors.
On the upside, Bruce Willis is trying. This is in opposition to recent films like The Cold Light of Day or A Good Day to Die Hard where it felt like Willis wasn’t really there. People sometimes say an actor “phoned it in” and the phrase certainly applies to Willis’ performances recently. It’s almost like he didn’t care about the films, didn’t care about the role he was playing, didn’t care to be there at all. Thankfully, that’s not an issue here. He’s bright-eyed and charismatic throughout the film, giving life to the Frank Moses character and anchoring the film. There are many flaws but Willis isn’t one of them.
Frankly none of the cast is really an issue. They all seem to fall right back into their roles without skipping a beat. Newcomers Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung-hun Lee and Anthony Hopkins fit in just fine and feel at home in the world. It’s just that the script doesn’t really give them much to do or say and as a result they’re kind of lifeless and boring. The actors can only do so much with what their given, and the screenwriters didn’t give them anything with which to work.
There are other minor issues, like some bad CGI, a climax with the bomb’s location that makes no sense and a chase scene that felt like it really wanted to be in a Fast & Furious movie right down to the car under a semi truck trick, but ultimately Red 2 is just a mediocre film. Enough of the jokes hit to make you laugh now and then, and the cast propels the poor script farther than it deserves to go. It’s mildly entertaining but stops well short of being really fun.
The Upside: Willis is charismatic and charming and the rest of the cast is strong, a few chuckles and mild entertainment
The Downside: A hackneyed plot, more jokes that miss than hit, and a rom com vibe all contribute to a sense of boredom
On the Side: Surprising no one, a third Red film is already in the works