Genial, fun, completely harmless, Dean Parisot's RED 2 is the kind of whimsical, vaguely exciting, merely diverting film you assume – and perhaps hope – every late-summer is going to be. RED 2 is exactly the kind of trifling entertainment that springs to mind when your visiting parents suggest you spend the afternoon at the movies. This is the kind of film that is to be consumed in large numbers, and then vaguely conversed about over a light dinner at the mall's food court. Although based on a comic book, and a sequel to boot, there is no hefty mythology to memorize, no thudding superhero angst, and no ultra-serious tonal portents implying that the filmmakers are doing anything other than taking a vacation, and having a grand old time playing around with some neato-keen genre material.
Even though the film may feel trifling, it's hard not to have fun because the cast is having so much fun in front of you. Acting powerhouses like Anthony Hopkins, Brian Cox, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich are all comfortably shedding their usual madmen, criminals, and queens, and sliding with a sign of relief into a rock-dumb lightweight spy thriller wherein they get to fire guns, gnash their teeth, drive fast cars, rub their hands like supervillains, and swap gay banter with respected peers. The tone is so jaunty and wispy, RED 2 almost plays like a Saturday morning cartoon, and the cast and director seem to have gone well out of their way to make sure “jolly” and “peppy” were treated less like mere tonal decisions, and more like outright mission statements.
RED 2 is, of course, the sequel to 2010's RED, a mild hit at the time, and, like its follow-up, more notable for its impressive cast than anything. In that film, Bruce Willis played an ex-spy named Frank Moses, who was classified Retired Extremely Dangerous, and yet who managed to have a friendly and tentative romance with an unassuming telemarketer named Sarah played by the adorable Mary-Louise Parker. In order to outrun a group of seemingly anonymous bad guys, Frank has to kidnap Sarah, and go underground with some old associates, including Morgan Freeman, Malkovich, etc. I feel like I have to remind you of the events of RED, because the makers of RED 2 assume you probably remember more than you do about the original RED. In RED 2, then, we see that Frank and Sarah are living in suburban bliss, he glad to be free of action, she aching for more. Within the first ten minutes, Frank and Sarah will be back on the road, getting into gunfights and car chases, and reuniting with Malkovich, et al.
The actual story – involving a super bomb made by a mad scientist (Hopkins) – is a secondary concern to RED 2, which is going to have scene after scene of sitcom-like romantic angst between Frank and Sarah (including a minxy ex-girlfriend played by Catherine Zeta-Jones), all whilst dodging bullets, shaking down bad guys, and avoiding a persistent cop played by the always-welcome Neal McDonough. Also on their tail is a super-deadly assassin played by Byung-hun Lee. Throw everything into a blender, hit “mix,” hijinks ensue. Less than two hours later, you leave the theater remembering most of the film, smiling quietly to yourself, ready to get some shopping done.
There may be a lot going on in RED 2 – not only is it a complex spy story that spans four countries and dozens of characters, but there is a romance that has to be maintained – but at the same time, almost nothing is going on. The politics are of the wheezy Cold War variety (although if you're going to re-tap the old saw of Russian nukes as a plot point, then why not cast actors who are in their 50s and 60s? And 70s?), and the humor is so relentlessly lackadaisical that it barely lingers even moments after you've laughed. But, at the end of the day, there is a kind of whimsical integrity to this. After a long summer of “hefty” comic book films that cost $200 million apiece, and feature no end of ultra-important mythologies complete with footnotes and endless online discussions, it's kind of nice to shed the weight and do something that is just goofy fun. RED 2 is not a great film. It's not even a very good film, but it is a pretty fun film. A film that giggles with us. On a hot summer afternoon, it fits the bill the same way a small glass of cool pink lemonade does. And surely that's something, right?
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and co-star of The Trailer Hitch. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind. If you want to buy him a gift (and I know you do), you can visit his Amazon Wish List.