The 400-Word Review: RED 2

By Sean Collier

July 22, 2013

Their hot sauce was too hot for me.

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The passable quality of the 2010 action-comedy RED was arithmetically derived: Add world-class performers to a mediocre movie and it becomes a good movie.

There is a threshold, however, below which a film cannot be rescued even by the most earnest performers. And the utterly unnecessary sequel RED 2 certainly falls below it.

The plot — some gibberish about a Cold War-era weapons development project, a missing nuclear weapon and the continued attempts to eliminate a group of ex-operatives — is incidental, a thoughtlessly assembled series of playgrounds in which the marquee stars may frolic. It’s telling that the characters always seem to have somewhere to go, but never clarify why they need to be there.

Among that roster: presumptive lead Frank (Bruce Willis) and his much-younger wife Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker, depressingly wasted here); comic relief/weapons guy Marvin (John Malkovich); femme very fatale Victoria (Helen Mirren); murderous Han (Lee Byung-hun); elderly scientist Edward (Anthony Hopkins); and Russian stock character Miranda (Catherine Zeta-Jones).


Omit Zeta-Jones and Willis and you have a company that could tackle any drama under the sun. Here, however, they shoot guns, trade quips and attempt to breeze through a script that infinitely less gifted performers would find plodding. If the RED franchise is meant to be action for the senior set (life and/or murder begins at 50, after all,) it’s clumsily violent and overly stylized. If it’s meant to draw a younger crowd into chuckling at geriatric antics, it should be funnier. And if it’s meant to be a serious action series, then it’s simply not a success.

There are pleasures to be derived from watching certain members of the ensemble — Mirren, Malkovich and Parker, mainly — simply because those actors do not know how to half-ass a gig. (Willis sure as hell does.) The action scenes, however, are so smothered in wall-to-wall PG-13 violence as to be stifling; utterly uninspired direction doesn’t help matters. It’s as if helmer Dean Parisot were cribbing notes from other ho-hum, latter-day sequels; RED 2 certainly feels more like a new Die Hard than an old one.

RED 3 is already in development, so we may be dragged into a post-Soviet world of tedium with these characters once more. If so, a modest proposal: tone down the action and let them act. Any lunkhead can fire a machine gun; most of this cast has considerably more to offer.

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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