There was a playfulness to the 2010 action film "Red," directed by Robert Schwentke, that elevated it above the standard action film offering.
Director Dean Parisot fails to find that level with "Red 2." It's still a fun action movie, but all of the aging buddy elements that made the original film such a surprise hit have been replaced with standard fight and flight sequences. Plus, the camaraderie that made the first move so much fun has given way to a disjointed mix of characters.
The sequel starts with a similar premise: kill Frank Moses (Bruce Willis). This time, he and killing buddy Marvin played with great zeal by John Malkovich have been linked to a super weapon created more than three decades ago. The search for the WMD and its maker (Anthony Hopkins) takes Frank, Marvin and Frank's true love, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), on a jaunt around the globe.
They're joined on their quest by the sharp-shooting Victoria (Helen Mirren) and martial arts master Han (Byung-hun Lee). All they have to do is break into several high-security areas including the Kremlin to save the day.
Both "Red" movies are perfect fits for Willis, who get to show off his macho side. While the sequel doesn't have as much humor, there are moments where Willis shows off his deadpan comedy.
His controlled approach is a sharp contrast to the goofy performance by Parker, whose character goes from liability to super spy in a very short time. Most of the time, Parker plays the role like a kindergarten student on a sugar high.
The strength of "Red" was how the team of mature spies and agents showed that time had not diminished their skills. Having only Willis and Malkovich together the majority of the time isn't quite the same.
The diminished group element is particularly disappointing because there's less time for Mirren, whose character is the most entertaining of the lot. Without question, the most memorable scene in "Red 2" has Mirren firing two guns out of the side windows on a car as the vehicle spins down the street. It's this kind of brush with the absurd that made "Red" so much fun. But Parisot who has been working as a TV director in recent years stages the majority of the action scenes in a more mundane manor.
If there had been no "Red," "Red 2" would not have been as disappointing. In the action movie genre, it hits and blows up all the right buttons. Because there was a "Red," the potential of what the sequel could have been is very clear. It just doesn't live up to the fun of the first.
"Red 2," rated PG-13 for violence, language. Stars Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren. Directed by Dean Parisot. Running time: 100 minutes. Grade: C+
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TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.