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.


***

Popular posts from this blog

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.

You’re going to make me drop a donkey.

Encanto (2021) (SPOILERS) By my estimation, Disney brand pictures are currently edging ahead of the Pixars. Not that there’s a whole lot in it, since neither have been at full wattage for a few years now. Raya and the Last Dragon and now Encanto are collectively just about superior to Soul and Luca . Generally, the animation arm’s attempts to take in as much cultural representation as they possibly can, to make up for their historic lack of woke quotas, has – ironically – had the effect of homogenising the product to whole new levels. So here we have Colombia, renowned the world over for the US’s benign intervention in their region, not to mention providing the CIA with subsistence income, beneficently showered with gifts from the US’s greatest artistic benefactor.

My hands hurt from galloping.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) (SPOILERS) Say what you like about the 2016 reboot, at least it wasn’t labouring under the illusion it was an Amblin movie. Ghostbusters 3.5 features the odd laugh, but it isn’t funny, and it most definitely isn’t scary. It is, however, shamelessly nostalgic for, and reverential towards, the original(s), which appears to have granted it a free pass in fan circles. It didn’t deserve one.

I’ve heard the dancing’s amazing, but the music sucks.

Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021) (SPOILERS) At one point in Tick, Tick… Boom! – which really ought to have been the title of an early ’90s Steven Seagal vehicle – Andrew Garfield’s Jonathan Larson is given some sage advice on how to find success in his chosen field: “ On the next, maybe try writing about what you know ”. Unfortunately, the very autobiographical, very-meta result – I’m only surprised the musical doesn’t end with Larson finishing writing this musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical… – takes that acutely literally.

If this were a hoax, would we have six dead men up on that mountain?

The X-Files 4.24: Gethsemane   Season Four is undoubtedly the point at which the duff arc episodes begin to amass, encroaching upon the decent ones for dominance. Fortunately, however, the season finale is a considerable improvement’s on Three’s, even if it’s a long way from the cliffhanger high of 2.25: Anasazi .

He has dubiety about his identity, possibly.

The Tender Bar (2021) (SPOILERS) George continues to flog his dead horse of a directorial career. It has to be admitted, however, that he goes less astray here than with anything he’s called the shots on in a decade ( Suburbicon may be a better movie overall, but the parts that grind metal are all ones Clooney grafted onto the Coen Brothers’ screenplay). For starters, he gives Batffleck a role where he can shine, and I’d given up on that being possible. Some of the other casting stretches credulity, but by setting his sights modestly, he makes The Tender Bar passably slight for the most part.

What would you do with a diseased little island?

28 Days Later (2002) (SPOILERS) Evolution’s a nasty business. If not for its baleful influence, all those genetically similar apes – or bats – would be unable to transmit deadly lab-made viruses to humans and cause a zombie plague. Thank the lord we’ve got science on our side, to save us from such scientifically approved, stamped and certified terrors. Does Danny Boyle believe in the programming he expounds? As in, is he as aware of 28 Days Later ’s enforcement of the prescribed paradigm in the same manner as the product placement he oversees in every other frame of the movie (and yes, he could have chosen the Alex Cox option for the latter; it would at least have shown some wit)?

Who gave you the crusade franchise? Tell me that.

The Star Chamber (1983) (SPOILERS) Peter Hyams’ conspiracy thriller might simply have offered sauce too weak to satisfy, reining in the vast machinations of an all-powerful hidden government found commonly during ’70s fare and substituting it with a more ’80s brand that failed to include that decade’s requisite facile resolution. There’s a good enough idea here – instead of Charles Bronson, it’s the upper echelons of the legal system resorting to vigilante justice – but The Star Chamber suffers from a failure of nerve, repenting its premise just as it’s about to dig into the ramifications.