RED2 Review - Fun, and it knows it.

 
RED2, PG-13
RED2 is a classic caper film, despite being an action/spy movie.   It aspires to be in the ranks of such action comedy quirk films as The In-Laws (1979).  And as far as that goes, it hits closer to the mark than the first film.  The first RED was a little too serious (with too much screaming Mary-Louise Parker)  to be as much fun as it could be, and seemed to want to be.  RED2, right from the opening sequence, is light on its feet and more fun.  Though the theme is still Retired Extremely Dangerous, the emphasis on RETIRED, or should I say, OLD isn't played so heavy handed, which is a relief.  Overall, the second film maintains most of the original charm of the first film, while improving by identifying that its primary role is humor.  That being said, it's not perfect.

RED2 finds our main characters of Frank (Bruce Willis) and Marvin (John Malkovich) already under threat again despite Frank's efforts to live a normal life. ("Normal" apparently means buying in bulk at Costco, in an opening sequence designed to delight middle America).  If you haven't seen RED, you may be a tad lost going into RED2, but you should orient pretty quickly. Bruce Willis is still tough as
nails. John Malkovich is, well, John Malkovich - and no one else could ever deliver a line in exactly the same way.  Mary-Louise Parker is too cutsie for my taste, but is given way more material and is more enjoyable than in the previous film as she asserts herself and has more of an active role. Hijinks ensue, and characters both familiar and new become embroiled in the plot - to varying degrees of success.  Catherine Zeta-Jones joins the ranks as - of all the unbelievable casting faux-pas oddities - a Russian agent.  I'm sorry, I've liked her in other parts, but I could play a lot more convincing Russian than she does!  And her chemistry with Bruce Willis fizzles rather than sizzles.  I had to agree with Mary-Louise Parker when she repeatedly asked, "when can we get rid of her?"

The brightest new addition is Korean actor Byung-hun Lee.  His action sequences are stellar, and his dry, sardonic delivery adds a much needed counterpoint to the affected cuteness of the rest of the characters.  Despite the fact that my husband kept saying, "Go Stormshadow!" every time he came on screen, I thoroughly enjoyed his role and found myself cheering for him even when I wasn't supposed to be!

My greatest criticism of RED2 is how self-aware the film and actors are throughout.  Let me explain it this way; any parent knows that toddlers do and say the craziest things.  What makes those things amusing is that the toddler has no idea that she is being silly.  An older sibling, seeing the parent's joy over toddler's quirky behavior, will mimic that behavior himself, watching his parent out of the corner of his eye for a reaction.  Even if the behavior is cute, it isn't as endearing as what the toddler did because the older child knows that what he is doing is silly and he is doing it for a reaction.  He is self-aware.  That's the way I felt about this film.  It was fun and quirky and cute, and the whole time the actors and director were watching the audience out of the corner of their eyes wondering, "are they seeing me? Are they seeing how adorably hilarious I'm being? Cause I'm REALLY adorably hilarious."  And the looks on their faces when they ask this are as follows: Mary-Louise Parker - doe eyed innocent schoolgirl; Bruce Willis - pursed lipped, twinkle eyed, "I'm such a cad"; John Malkovich - eyebrows raised, "who, me?" caught-with-his-hand-in-a-cookie-jar.  Why? Because those are the expressions they wear for a good percentage of the film - in too many indulgent cameos. The film was fun, but I don't think it was nearly as fun as the actors and director thought it was making it.

Overall, I give RED2 snaps for humor and wit in a time when most comedy relies on skank and snark. It could have been less affected about it, but I would still say it's worth seeing.  (Especially for the 50+ crowd.  Not sure why, but the half of the theater in that demographic were WAY more engaged, belly laughing throughout and raving through the credits.  I liked it, but they LOVED it.  So if that's you, I definitely recommend it!)
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