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D: Dean Parisot / 116m

Cast: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Byung-hun Lee, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough, David Thewlis, Brian Cox, Garrick Hagon, Tim Pigott-Smith

A surprise hit in 2010, Red was fun to watch because it had an ageing cast (Parker excepted) indulging in the kind of action movie heroics that (Willis excepted) you wouldn’t normally find them involved in. Everyone looked like they were having a great time, so it was almost a certainty there would be a sequel. And here it is.

Following on from the first movie, Frank Moses (Willis) is still having trouble settling down with Sarah (Parker). When Marvin (Malkovich) warns that someone is coming for both of them, he then fakes his own death. At the funeral, Frank is taken in for questioning by federal agents.  Frank and Marvin are accused of having worked on Project Nightshade, an operation carried out over thirty years before whose purpose was to plant a nuclear bomb in Moscow. After Frank survives an attempt to kill him by sinister US agent Jack Horton (McDonough), the Americans hire Han (Lee) to complete the task, while the British give the job to old friend and ally Victoria (Mirren). Both countries have their reasons for putting Frank and Marvin on their most wanted lists, and as the movie progresses those reasons become clearer and clearer, and have a lot to do with missing-presumed-dead scientist Edward Bailey (Hopkins). In order to clear themselves, Frank, Marvin and Sarah travel from the US to Paris to Moscow and then to London in their efforts to stop the bomb from being set off. Along the way they are variously helped and/or hindered by terrorist The Frog (Thewlis), Russian official Ivan (Cox), and an ex-flame of Frank’s, Katja (Zeta-Jones).

Red 2 - scene

The first movie, as mentioned above, was fun to watch, but Red 2 is a chore. From the opening sequence to the final scene, the movie lumbers from set up to set up, barely pausing to catch its own breath. If it did, if it gave itself a chance to breathe, then there’s more chance the audience would realise how poor a sequel it is, so the movie doesn’t let up. Willis, Malkovich and Hopkins overact as if their careers depend on it, while Parker stretches kooky to flat-out annoying. Lee is underused, McDonough makes the most of his early scenes, while Zeta-Jones succeeds in putting the fatal in femme fatale. Only Helen Mirren emerges unscathed from a script – by Jon and Erich Hoeber – that dispenses with any attempt at characterisation, pays lip service to the idea of a coherent plot, and includes some of the worst dialogue this side of an Adam Sandler movie (Jack & Jill anyone?).

The action sequences are perfunctory and often poorly edited, and the humour that punctuates the movie seems forced rather than organic. It’s the same old schtick from the first movie but less interesting and on a bigger budget. Parisot directs as if he’s not responsible for anything that appears on screen, and nothing can detract from the sense of hopelessness that builds toward the incredibly naff – and predictable – showdown between Willis and the movie’s main villain (their identity in itself completely predictable). It’s somehow more disappointing when a big budget movie with a talented cast tanks so badly – you’d think someone might look at the script and say, “hang on, can’t we do something about this?”. If this is a cast and crew that are doing their best, perhaps they just shouldn’t bother.

Rating: 4/10 – an unremittingly bad sequel to a moderately good first movie, Red 2 stutters and stumbles its way through a disaster of a script; saved from a lower rating by some good location work, and the pleasure of seeing Helen Mirren showing everyone else how it should be done.