Robert Schwentke’s Red (2010) came as a minor surprise. This first story of ageing spies being hunted out of retirement was an enjoyable romp; an action film that didn’t merely coast on the names of its high profile stars. Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Mary Louise Parker all return for the sequel, but Dean Parisot’s Red 2 (2013) is not its predecessor. Still based (loosely) on Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer’s comic book, Red 2 sees the early shine fading from Frank (Willis) and Sarah’s (Parker) relationship, as the former attempts to leave his past behind and commit to a life of humdrum domesticity.
Within a few minutes, however, team RED (“Retired, Extremely Dangerous”) and Frank’s old CIA buddy Marvin (Malkovich) are on the run again. MI6 hitwoman Victoria (Mirren) warns them that she’s been hired to kill them, as has Han (Byung-hun Lee). Later, the gang realise they also need to spring Dr. Edward Bailey (Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins) from MI6’s special mental institution to recover a bomb. Red 2’s unwieldy narrative lurches from location to location on what feels like entirely arbitrary reasoning. The all-star cast – which now includes new British points of interest David Thewlis and Catherine Zeta-Jones – are crammed into what little space is left in Parisot’s script after all the ridiculous plot machinations have taken up most of the film’s unnecessarily lengthy runtime.
Hopkins admittedly provides a few bright moments, but Willis – so watchable in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Rian Johnson’s Looper last year – is not alone in turning in a glass-eyed, slack performance here. The energy that drove Malkovich in the first Red is similarly missing, whilst Mirren plays it by the numbers. That’s the film in a nutshell: by the numbers, its structure is replicated beat for beat from the original offering, without half the sense of fun. Parisot previously directed 1999’s knowing sci-fi parody Galaxy Quest, which revelled in the tropes and clichés of its genre, exploiting them for maximum comic effect and creating an emotional response to the characters. Sadly, Red 2 merely regurgitates the window-dressing of the action caper with none of the humour or pathos that created the demand for the sequel in the first place.