Red 2

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"The reason this franchise succeeds is that it never takes itself too seriously."

Screenwriting duo Joe and Erich Hoeber proved they knew how to handle a one-liner in ageing-spy thriller Red and they show the same prowess here. As for the plot, they don't so much lose it as ignore it, using only the most basic of structures to support their character-driven brand of banter. Does this matter? That depends, but if you're prepared to go with the flow - not to mention the body count - and not ask too many questions, then this is an enjoyable slice of summer entertainment.

The characters from the previous movie are all present and correct. Bruce Willis' retired CIA agent Frank has settled into domesticity with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) although to say it is bliss would be pushing the point. In fact, much of the humour in the film comes not from its terror-threat plot but from their odd-couple relationship and the efforts of everyone else in the movie to urge Frank to "run to emotional safety". Faced with the idea of fleeing for their lives, Sarah tells him: "This is going to be good for us."


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Frank's not so sure but when it appears that his best mate Marvin (John Malkovich) really may have met a sticky end, things get nasty. With Marvin once-again resurrected they find themselves implicated in a plot named Nightshade - which none of them have ever heard of - and have to travel the globe to find out what it is (there's a bomb!) and thwart it. Needless to say, they're unlikely to have an easy ride given that the US government have hired top assassin Han (Byung-hun Lee, whose cheekbones alone should probably be registered as deadly weapons) and the British government have dispatched erstwhile ally Victoria (Helen Mirren) to retire them for good. Like early summer blockbuster Fast & Furious 6, the characters just keep on coming, with Frank's old flame and Russian counterspy Katja (Catherine Zeta Jones) joining the fun, David Thewlis hamming it up in the role of French poisoner The Frog and Anthony Hopkins gleefully sinking his teeth into the dotty and possibly deadly Professor Bailey. Even Brian Cox gets to stop by for a few hours' filming to revive Victoria's Russian spy love interest Ivan.

The reason this franchise succeeds is that it never takes itself too seriously - even the ridiculously high heels that the women are all wearing are referenced at one point - although some of the cheerfully glib death meted out here does feel a bit OTT. And if Lee appears to have been cast purely to strip to his waist periodically - presumably in a bid to encourage a lower audience demographic - it's the old hands who really make this film work.

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As with the first instalment, all of them throw themselves into the action with abandon, grabbing one-liners by the throat. Parker, in particular, shines as a different sort of heroine, being neither a gung-ho Lara Croft type, nor jittery Indiana Jones-style side-kick. She, like Victoria and Katja, is very much her own person even if she is indulging in romantic liason. Dean Parisot has a track record of handling parody, having previously helmed Galaxy Quest, and he keeps a tight grip on things here, so that even when the plot is silly and stretched, it is never confusing. Red 2 may take a pulp approach to spy antics but it is delivered with a satisfying enthusiasm.

Reviewed on: 31 Jul 2013
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Frank Moses finds he and his girlfriend on a mission to save the world.
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Director: Dean Parisot

Writer: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, based on characters created by Warren Ellis, Cully Hamner

Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Byung-hun Lee, Jong Kun Lee, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, Garrick Hagon, Tim Pigott-Smith, Brian Cox, Philip Arditti, Mitchell Mullen

Year: 2013

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US, France, Canada

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