Think of the RED franchise as the merging of two colors.
By JON NICCUM
Special to The Star
Its title hints at the bloody body count (even though the R rating of the 2010 original is reduced to a PG-13 in this sequel). The movie is also quite black as in black comedy.
Its touchy balancing humor and deadly covert missions without one smothering the other, but RED 2 does a capable job. Theres a certain obligatory feel to this twisty tale of retired government assassins forced back into action, yet its got terrific fight scenes and a breezy style.
As paranoid former black op Marvin (John Malkovich) explains, Style is the only constant in life.
This installment of Retired, Extremely Dangerous begins with Marvin warning fellow agent Frank (Bruce Willis) that a leaked document tying the pair to a classified project has made them targets. Too bad because Frank and his Kansas girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) are finally figuring out how they can function as civilians.
This leads to a globe-hopping quest that reunites them with old adversaries such as an English sharpshooter (Helen Mirren), a Russian spy (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and an incarcerated scientist (Anthony Hopkins).
If the film feels familiar, its not just due to the comfort of spending more time with these characters (who are based on the Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner comic book). Its hard to watch a car chase in Paris without thinking of The Bourne Identity or Ronin. And its really hard to watch the heroes dress like Russian generals and sneak into the Kremlin on the heels of an identical scene in the latest Mission: Impossible.
On the flipside, director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) stages awesome sequences where combatants are forced to use their wits instead of firearms. These include a slick opening at a CIA interrogation center, with Frank exploiting mundane office furnishings to escape.
The best involves charismatic Byung-hun Lee (G.I. Joe: Retaliation), a Korean action star portraying the best contract killer in the world. Lee convincingly dispatches a scrum of cops while handcuffed to a refrigerator.
Parisot also coaxes Willis into giving an actual performance. Just compare this to the stars agonizingly apathetic work in A Good Day to Die Hard, a strong contender for worst movie of 2013. When Willis stops scowling and instead concentrates on a punch line, its easy to remember why he launched his career on a TV comedy series.
The true standout is Parker (Showtimes Weeds), who steals scenes away from the adjacent Oscar winners. The wide-eyed brunette is simply hilarious, as when shes forced to flirt with a Kremlin soldier who might blow her cover, even though shes memorized only one sentence in Russian. Parker takes what would typically be the girlfriend role and makes her the most appealing individual in the picture.
Marvin: She has talents you and I will never have.
Frank: Like what?
Marvin: People like her!
How refreshing to see a legitimate love interest in a Hollywood blockbuster played by a woman who turns 50 next year.
Thats the crux of the RED films in the first place. They supply a steadfast showcase for older actors in a medium dominated by youth.