Because the world needs the palpable sexuality of John Malkovich and Helen Mirren on screen together, here comes Red 2. You’d never know from the inspired title, but it’s actually a sequel to the film Red, which was something of a sleeper hit, and not just because it starred actors old enough to go narcoleptic mid-interview. The key to making a movie that absolutely nobody needs and very few actually demand is to keep things loosey goosey. Things don’t get much looser or goosier than what writers Jon and Erich Hoeber and director Dean Parisot just did.
Assuming the ending of Red hasn’t penetrated popular culture to the point of memorization: The film resolved with ex-C.I.A. superhero Frank (Bruce Willis) opting for domesticated bliss with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a delightful “normal.” However, Marvin (John Malkovich) shows up to tell the blissful-but-bored couple that their lives are in danger because of one of the countless cases Frank worked on once. The danger comes in the form of two hitmen who are called in. Well, one hitman and one hit-Dame, as Han (Byung-hun Lee) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) are tasked with offing Frank. To save himself, Frank must find Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), a wacky scientist, with the help of Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Frank’s former flame and femme fatale.
Things are so casual, if you look carefully, there’s a good chance Malkovich is wearing his house slippers. Unfortunately, Parker didn’t get the “breezy” memo and takes a detour towards manic, which explains Malkovich’s occasional looks of jealousy. Mirren is typical Mirren, demure and badass; it helps she has the single best comedy bit, mocking herself. Meanwhile, Willis was sculpted into a leading man from television clay by the movie gods just to star in films that allow him to alternate between shooting and smirking. Red 2 looks like the most fun he’s had since Ashton Kutcher left his life.
What’s nice is that Red 2 actually brings a considerable amount of action with it. Adding Lee opened up high-speed martial arts absent from the first film. It has solid car chases, well-choreographed gun battles, and Parker and Malkovich duking it out in an unspoken silly hat contest that leaves no prisoners. The busy-ness of it all helps disguise the fact that the plot is just remarkably lazy and steals liberally from other films of its ilk. Everyone on screen seems to know that, to the point where a credit cookie with the leads breaking the fourth wall and apologizing for the writing wouldn’t be out of place.
Red 2 has no reason to be. But in the pantheon of unnecessary sequels, it floats to the top of the chum-filled pack. Watching talented folks like this have a genuinely good time is contagious, and given the late-summer tsunami of mediocrity we’re swimming in, simply having reason to smile a bit feels like a decent victory.
This review first appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Neb.
Rating: two-and-a-half out of four stars