Brian: I just read an interesting and quite damning article on Slate (“Clickbait headlines and occasional content since some time in the late ’90s”) about “Save the Cat!”, a screenwriting book that came out a few years ago and that outlines 15 specific storytelling ‘beats’ that every blockbuster film must have. It sure does seem to work most of the time, and it sure is a hatchet to the face of originality. Which reminds me of something else: “Red 2” is super fucking formulaic and basically does not work across the board.
Greg: In the original “Red,” Bruce Willis starred as Frank Moses, a former government spook (he’s Retired, Extremely Dangerous) who was trying to find ways to fill his days and life with a little bit of meaning when the government tried to kill him. So he gathered up all his old spy buddies to figure out why and to stop them and also to romance Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) the woman who sends him his pension checks. It was a fun trifle. Watching Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen FRICKIN’ Mirren be all bad-ass was pretty entertaining. They were so blase about the killing that even as the body count skyrocketed, you were just enjoying it too much to care.
Brian: I missed the first film, but it generally seemed like a solid movie. I will take Greg’s word for it because I like it when other people do my thinking for me.
Greg: So true. And now they’ve made “Red 2,” which tries — and fails! — to capture the magic of the first film.
Brian: Hold on there, Dumbledore. I didn’t say anything about magic.
Greg: Frank is back and he’s living a very boring life with Sarah, who isn’t very happy that her badass boyfriend seems content to shop at big box stores and keep her safe. But then Marvin (Malkovich) shows up to warn him that a Wikileaks-style document has gone up that has them both being targeted.
Brian: This is as good a time as any to mention that Mary-Louise Parker may be literally the only part of this movie that works properly. Her lines are generic and flat as hell, but she manages to sell them in a way I’d describe as borderline miraculous. She makes this crap funny, I swear. It is possible I have already started a fan club.
Greg: The Wiki having been leaked, there begins an international adventure (the original had a fun travelogue feel, moving across America) that takes the crew to Paris, Russia, London, etc. while picking up some of the previous film’s cast and a few new ones along the way.
Brian: Gee Greg, that seems like it might make for a colorful, fun-ish film, right?
Greg: It. Is. Boring.
Brian: Like listening to paint dry.
Greg: International spy mysteries should be cool and exciting and for all the gunfights and amazing acrobatics and quippy one-liners, “Red 2” is just blah. There is no life here. There are no stakes. It’s an interminable slog with clear laugh lines (to which some of the audience really responded) and not many real laughs.
Brian: You know it’s bad when the preview audience stops laughing 15 minutes in. Compared with the people at goddamn “Grown Ups 2,” this crowd was the receiving line at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, only less animated.
Greg: In some ways, it’s down to casting. Karl Urban’s Agent Wilson from the first movie was kind of the good guy and kind of the bad guy and a lot of fun to watch. His replacement in “Red 2” is Neal McDonough as Jack Horton, a one-note government killer who lacks personality and intimidation.
Brian: Yeah, McDonough is creepy enough: He’s kind of orange all over with slightly brighter blonde hair, which is unsettling, to begin with, plus he’s doing all that killing. But the script kind of craps out on him about halfway through the movie, and there’s not much you can expect a guy to do with that.
Greg: Better is Korean actor Byung-hun Lee as Han, the best contract killer in the world. Though for someone who’s so amazingly skilled, he does get fooled a lot. Anyway, his fight scenes– in fact, just his scenes in general — were some of the best. He’s a character shrouded in mystery. He’s a pro. He’s a scary guy and he’s still funny and charming. He’s the assassin you want to take home to meet your parents.
Brian: Careful, he might take your mom out to a nice steak dinner and then never call her again. I hereby redact my comments about Ms. Parker being the only thing that works in “Red 2,” because Lee is really great here. (NOTE: This will in no way affect my letter-writing campaign to Mary Louise Parker. Four a day isn’t too many, right? Six would be creepy, obviously.) His fight scenes are the only ones that really work: They’re actually fun and exciting to watch, except for when he fights Bruce Willis because Bruce Willis is 58 years old and whatnot.
Greg: Mirren’s performance as Victoria was fine, but the real letdown was Malkovich. I know he does some movies for the money and some for the art (and I definitely know which category the “Red” films fall into), but his acting here was nothing more than making funny faces. In the first one, he was so isolated and crazy and didn’t pick up on emotional cues. Here he’s trying to give relationship advice, but still pulling dumb looks every few minutes.
Brian: I didn’t mind Malkovich in this, though I did notice he seemed much less batshit crazy than it seemed like he was supposed to be in the first film. Hmmm, come to think of it, perhaps that’s another example of incredibly lazy writing! I mean, look: I’m a lazier writer than most, but I’m also not getting paid tens of thousands of dollars for this. Step up, screenwriters.
Greg: Why is Malkovich giving relationship advice? Because Catherine Zeta-Jones shows up as Frank’s old flame and oh my god I’m already bored. There’s zero chemistry there. Honestly, I didn’t pick up a lot of chemistry between Frank and Sarah, either. Mostly, I just wanted them to get on with it, because at two hours long, this is a movie that just… keeps… going.
Brian: I saw moderately successful results between Frank and Sarah, but again, this was due almost entirely to Mary-Louise Parker, who on an unrelated note seems to have acquired a restraining order with remarkable alacrity.
Greg: One scene I did enjoy was watching the returning Brian Cox (as Russian spy Ivan) with Anthony Hopkins (as British scientist Bailey). Their acting together wasn’t particularly memorable, but it was two Hannibal Lecters in one scene. If only Mads Mikkelsen could have popped by for a moment.
Brian: The liver-eating would be drowned out by the scenery-chewing. I’ll watch Brian Cox much a film set any day, though.
Greg: Maybe the worst thing about “Red 2” is that the creators took a formula that worked and tried to make the same movie again and failed. It’s not bad. It really isn’t BAD. This isn’t New Coke. The problem is it’s just boring and the people on screen seem just as bored by it as I was.
Brian: True story. Since I now divide my life into the time before I had to watch “Grown Ups 2” and the time after, I entered the theater ready to practically fall in love with “Red 2.” It’s a striking testament to the film’s failure that I could barely muster an “eh.”
Greg: I give “Red 2” 2 out of 5 Morgan Freemans ogling a hot nurse’s ass.
Brian: From me, “Red 2” gets 2 out of 5 Baby Boomer action stars that the old white Baby Boomers who run Hollywood will never admit are no longer viable action stars, since that would mean admitting that they themselves are OLD.
Or just 2 out of 5 Bruce Willises.
“Red 2” is rated PG-13 for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material.