Skip to main content

Why is it terrorists never appreciate Burgundy?

Red 2
(2013)

(SPOILERS) If in doubt, sign on for an unnecessary sequel. Red 2 isn’t bad, but it adds nothing whatsoever to its predecessor. More than that, director Dean Parisot may have a feel for the comedy but his action beats seem to be taking place somewhere else (calling second unit). In the end, it’s the continually impressive cast, old and new, that save this one from being completely redundant.


Parisot gave us the splendid Star Trek parody Galaxy Quest, but that was nearly 15 years ago. Since then he’s mostly made a nest for himself on TV (as have a platoon of directors who have had enough of labouring away out in the cold, trying and failing to get movie projects off the ground). Along the way there was the stillborn Fun with Dick and Jane remake on the big screen, but most notable was some solid genre work on Justified. One assumes it was his collaboration with Neal McDonough there that secured him the nominal villain role of Horton here. McDonough’s actually great fun, taking undisguised pleasure in being utterly evil. He manages to eclipse Urban’s ultimately well-meaning antagonist in the first movie.


Writers Jon and Eric Hoeber have returned, but they’re stuck in stir-and-repeat mode. The MacGuffin, a nuclear device called Nightshade that is powered by “red mercury” and sits under the Kremlin, feels derivative of the recent and vastly superior Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. The narrative, while adopting a similar travelogue style to RED (complete with arty transitions, here better achieved and suggestive of the DC comic book origins) doesn’t have the same flow. And Parisot only rarely succeeds in integrating the action set pieces.


There is an effective attempt to capture Willis’ Frank Moses at the outset, recalling the SWAT team opening to the first RED. The reversed tables find Frank, Alien style, plucking feckless team members from doorways and dragging him into his lair. But, if that’s a more effective repeat, other references display a wanton lack of inspiration. Where Morgan Freeman was presumed dead early on in RED, only to reconstitute, this time it’s Malkovich (who is still the best thing in this series). Only now he has to compete in the slightly cuckoo stakes with Anthony Hopkins. 


Byung-hun Lee (who, like Willis, appeared in G.I. Joe: Retaliation this year) is Han, an assassin tasked with killing Frank. And, like Urban last time out, he turns out to be not such a bad guy after all. A scene in a supermarket, where Lee shows off his considerable martial arts skills, looks like it was filmed entirely on its own and then awkwardly slotted into the main movie. Yet again, there’s an identity twist regarding the villain; Dreyfuss last time, bumbling-but-not-really Hopkins this (it’s a twist you’re expecting from Hopkins first scene).


Still, there is such a surfeit of performers here that even when the writers and director let the side down there’s more than enough to hold the attention. Steven Berkoff appears in one scene. David Thewlis shows up as dodgy dealer The Frog (“Why is it terrorists never appreciate Burgundy?”). Catherine Zeta-Jones, often somewhat variable performance-wise, does no favours to a Russian accent is still good fun as Katya (Frank’s “kryptonite”). There’s a strange fascination in seeing one Hannibal Lector (Brian Cox) share screen time with another Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins). As for the latter, as pay cheque-orientated as his appearance is he almost justifies the indulgence of his hammy/dotty professor persona during the middle section since his reveal as a merciless villain is more than a match for McDonaugh (“And you didn’t see that coming, did you? Old sport”).


Least successful are the attempts to give Frank’s relationship with Mary-Louise Parker’s Sarah some edge and development (“Things were getting a little stale”). Her jealousy of Katya is over-cooked, pushing Parker into frantic mugging mode. Likewise her desire to get involved in the action, but not to the extent of actually killing people. This leads to an ungainly succession of incidents where Sarah snogs otherwise dead meat targets. Worse, when she does end up shooting someone (with a initialised gun given to her by Frank) she has a momentary realisation of horror… and then all is well. The Hoebers presumably want to touch on something a little more serious here, but they chose the wrong picture; this is wall-to-wall superficial (and thus really better for not going there).


Frank: He’s not dead. He does this a lot.

Malkovich continues to get all the best lines, and his chemistry with Willis is as evident as ever. He tells the latter, “I was touched that you cried at my funeral”. When Frank is indignant that Marvin gave Sarah a gun, he replies, “It is America, Frank”. Asked by Sarah if he should eat a decades-old Moon Pie, he observes “It’s before they had the sell-by-dates, stuff”. And, under a heavy fire from Han, Marvin grips hold of Frank for dear life. “Is that a stick of dynamite in your pocket?” asks Frank. “I’m saving it for emergencies”, comes the reply.


A consequence of all this name actor malarkey is that Willis ends up mostly adopting the pose of the straight man. And he is very game, but it remains a shame that the once reliably witty lead is now relied to solid reaction shots. Red 2 was foolishly released during the summer. The original made capital from an October date to become a surprise sleeper hit. Given the more-of-the same nature of this follow-up, Summit should count themselves lucky that it ended up with $60m worldwide shy of the first (most of the drop came in the US). Such an underperformance may put a third outing in doubt, which may be just as well. It’s enjoyable to see these guys bouncing off each other but once was more than sufficient.


***

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

You can have it. Make the edits.

Little Women (2019)
(SPOILERS) It could be argued, given Little Women’s evergreen popularity, not least as a go-to text for Hollywood adaptations, that Greta Gerwig isn’t exactly stretching herself or giving us a better idea of the kind of directorial career she envisages. Hers is a likeable, intelligent, well-rendered sophomore picture. As such, the awards plaudits are probably no more or less deserving than for your average prestige period piece. Which is to say that Little Women is handsomely mounted and consummately performed (at least, by some of the cast), but it doesn’t absolutely feel like this umpteenth version of Louise May Alcott’s novel demanded to be told, even with the Gerwig’s innovations of experimentation with time frame and metatextual use of its author.

We need somebody to walk the clones.

Jojo Rabbit (2019)
(SPOILERS) Not so much the banality of evil as of taking pot-shots at easy targets, Taika Waititi’s typically insubstantial, broad-brush, sketch-comedy approach isn’t the best of fits for the formulation of this self-styled “anti-hate satire”. The issue isn’t so much that it’s inappropriate or insensitive to broach material of Nazi persecution of the Jews comedically as that the manner in which it has been done here is so obvious as to be redundant. Waititi said his inspiration for making the movie was partly the statistics on those Americans who had never heard of Auschwitz; Jojo Rabbit is as cack-handed a way of going about informing them as Life is Beautiful.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

This popularity of yours. Is there a trick to it?

The Two Popes (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes joke, in which he dropped The Two Popes onto a list of the year’s films about paedophiles, rather preceded the picture’s Oscar prospects (three nominations), but also rather encapsulated the conversation currently synonymous with the forever tainted Roman Catholic church; it’s the first thing anyone thinks of. And let’s face it, Jonathan Pryce’s unamused response to the gag could have been similarly reserved for the fate of his respected but neglected film. More people will have heard Ricky’s joke than will surely ever see the movie. Which, aside from a couple of solid lead performances, probably isn’t such an omission.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.