It seems like Bruce Willis is the undeniable king of appearing in unnecessary sequels. His conscience as of late has to have gone something like this: “Parts in The Expendables 2 and GI Joe: Retaliation, yeah sure why not?” Or how about, “Another Die Hard movie that’s basically an insult to the fundamental ideas of the original? Well if there’s a lucrative paycheck involved, then okay.” And I know it came out nearly ten years ago, but don’t even get me started on The Whole Ten Yards. Now we’ve got Red 2, one of those head-scratching sequels that make you wonder how it was even an option until you check the box office returns on the original. The first Red movie was made for a modest $58 million and made upwards of $199 million in domestic and foreign ticket sales.
Maybe it was all those Red comic book fans that came out in droves to see the big screen adaptation, but something tells me the all-star AARP cast—including Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, and Ernest Borgnine—had something to do with the first film’s general blind success. And that’s just my point, Red 2’s main approach is to extend that all-star cast—with Catherine Zeta-Jones, David Thewlis, and Anthony Hopkins among others—figuring that simply adding more recognizable faces and simple laughs amongst the geriatric gunfire instead of making a comprehensible or worthwhile story will suffice.
Frank Moses (Willis) is trying to lead a normal life with his girlfriend Sarah (Mary Louis-Parker, whose performance in this film is so weirdly scatterbrained that it seems like she was drunk for every single take) until he’s tipped off that Interpol is looking for him. It seems as though his name has come up in regards to a rogue weapon of mass destruction—codename: Nightshade—built during the Cold War that may or may not go off in Moscow, forcing Moses to go on the run with Sarah and his old black-ops buddy and conspiracy theorist Marvin (John Malkovich, going through the motions doing his weirdo schtick) to clear his name while being pursued by a ruthless hitman (Lee Byung-hun) and a sadistic US agent (Neil McDonaugh). Despite being branded public enemy number one, Moses and the gang somehow freely crisscross international borders with ease, picking up a Russian agent who is Moses’ former lover (Zeta-Jones, whose supposed sensuality here comes off like your mom desperately trying to act weirdly sexy in front of your friends), their old spec-ops friend Victoria (Mirren, also trying to do the weird hot mom thing), and an absent-minded scientist whose been in MI6 custody since the 80s for building the Nightshade device (Hopkins, as charming and serpentine as ever).
Saying anything more would give things away, but to be honest I wouldn’t really know just how to give anything away in this movie. Afterwards a friend and I tried to connect the plot point dots, mainly to figure out why some people were in certain places and how they managed to get there or what their main connection to the story was, but there was always a spot where their link to the plot didn’t plausibly add up. It’s as if the screenwriters made the storyline so full of people, guns, explosions, technobabble, and stuff that they forgot to figure out a real reason for all of it to be there other than the useless Nightshade MacGuffin. But even when the action does try to gear up, it’s so plainly rote and never puts the main characters in convincing danger that it’s exhaustingly boring. Willis in particular wears the same half-annoyed face throughout the movie that his emotional range is identical to when he’s being shot at by a massive gun or while having a normal conversation in a diner.
Red 2 is the type of lifeless sequel that makes me angry. It’s probably going to be a small hit with general audiences because its simple action and simpler laughs will entertain the masses for two hours, but while watching it most people have got to recognize just how insignificant it is. They’ll recognize this actor or that actor—especially Hopkins who is the best of the lot—but other than that there’s really nothing more. Instead of the title’s acronym standing for “Retired and Extremely Dangerous,” it should be something like “Really Extremely Dull.”