There's no other way of putting it: The filmmakers behind the brilliant 2010 "RED" -- an acronym for Retired, Extremely Dangerous -- should have retired the franchise when they were ahead. That's not to say the new sequel "RED 2" is a bad film -- it's far from it -- it's just a disappointment that doesn't nearly measure up to its inspired predecessor.
In the 2010 original, "RED" introduced us to the lonely world of Frank Moses, a retired Black-Ops agent whose only joy in life is his phone conversations about "lost checks" with an equally lonely Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), a government case worker whose only joy is reading spy novels. Circumstances throw the two together, along with Moses' fellow retired agents Marvin (John Malkovich), Joe (Morgan Freeman) and former MI:6 assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren), as they thwart a high-tech enemy who wants them all dead.
The gang's almost all back in "RED 2" (sans Freeman, whose terminally ill character died in the original), which picks up with Frank and Sarah living more of a normal life -- or abnormal, as defined by Marvin, who points out to Frank, "you haven't killed anybody in months."
The hopelessly paranoid member of the group, Marvin is suspecting something's bad on the horizon, and as it turns out, he's right. It seems the government has framed the two for a crime they didn't commit years before, and it's all part of an elaborate scheme to draw them both into the game to ferret out Bailey (Sir Anthony Hopkins), a long-presumed dead British nuclear scientist who knows the location of nuclear weapon that could wipe out millions.
A cross-country chase naturally ensues, as Frank, Sarah and Marvin, along with their old friend, Victoria, lock-and-load themselves for some more death defying action and adventure as they dispatch the bad guys with relative ease.
See my review of the film on "KARE 11 News at 11" with Diana Pierce below.
As much as they tried, director Dean Parisot, along with screenwriters Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber (who co-wrote the first film) were unable to mine enough inspiration out of the "RED" graphic novel (written by Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer) for film to compete with the brilliant original.
Granted, principal players like Freeman's Joe couldn't be brought back and Karl Urban's William Cooper is nowhere to be found, but cast in their absence are people able actors like Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Russian spy who has a romantic past with Frank, which annoys Sarah; and Byung hun-Lee (Storm Shadow in the "G.I. Joe" films) as a hit man paid by the government to take out Frank. The always-great Hopkins is a welcome addition to the cast, too, as Bailey, who give off the film's only air of mystery as "RED 2" wanders through its convoluted storyline.
Perhaps the biggest problem with "RED 2" is its tone. Despite the exploits of the hilarious Malkovich and cold, calculated classiness of Mirren (those two alone make the film worth seeing), the film is not nearly as quirky or funny as the original.
And while Willis fits the bill again as Frank (he far better in this than the most recent "Die Hard" sequel), it's Parker's character, Sarah, who has taken the biggest dive. She was sweet and lovable in the first film, and now, as she tries to get into the spy game with Frank and Marvin, is just plain annoying as she tries to force humor at every turn. It's too bad, because she's proven time and again that she's a very talented actor.
Of course, the conclusion of "RED 2" suggest that there could be another "RED" in pipeline, and if that's the case, they better start overhauling the screenplay fast. These retired, extremely dangerous characters are already feeling way too old.
"RED 2," rated PG-13, 2 1/2 stars out of four
See the trailer for "RED 2" below.
What other local critics are saying ...
In his 3 star review for the Pioneer Press, Chris Hewitt says the film is "extremely violent and extremely unlikely, it's also extremely entertaining."
The Star Tribune's Colin Covert gives the film 2 1/2 stars, noting that the film delivers "dumb fun by the ton."
Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he also reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11.” As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.