Movie review: 'RED 2' another good ride

Some new faces join
madcap adventures of former CIA team in sequel that works

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mary-Louise Parker and Bruce Willis star in Red 2. (Frank Masi/Summit Entertainment)

Asked during another round of derring-do if he feels old, former CIA agent Frank Moses says, “Not really.” And that’s the essence of the RED movies.

2010’s RED and the new RED 2 argue repeatedly and with great humor that passing 40, or 50, or even 60 is no reason to give up on having relationships, feeling sexy, stopping bad guys and generally tearing things up. Youth is a handicap in the RED movies, based on a series of comic books; when one young operative tells an old pro that her exploits were “before my time,” he gets a painful reminder of how effective that pro still is.

Consider: Frank is played by Bruce Willis, 58. Other key players in the films include John Malkovich, 59; Helen Mirren, 68; Mary-Louise Parker, 48, and Brian Cox, 62. RED 2 adds Anthony Hopkins, 75; Catherine Zeta-Jones, 43; Byung Hun Lee, 42; and Neal McDonough, 47. Not a twenty- or thirtysomething in the bunch.

Of course, having a bunch of veteran actors giving good performances is of no use if your story is weak. From the same writers as the first film, RED 2 includes enjoyable action, and a car chase that felt fresher than some, and a lot of pleasant character interplay.

Yes, there are some say-what moments in the plot, especially at the end. And Parker’s performance, while somewhat understandable, is at times more excitable than fits with the rest of the actors. But it’s a good time at the movies, regardless of your age.

For those of you arriving late, the original RED found Frank in a grumpy retirement in Cleveland before an assassination attempt dragged him back into his violent game, where he had help from Marvin (Malkovich) and Victoria (Mirren) while settling into a romance with Sarah (Parker), who found in Frank’s adventures a delightful if dangerous change from her ordinary life.

The second film picks up well after the end of the caper in RED and the adventure in Moldova that capped the earlier movie. Frank is once again vying for domestic harmony, gleefully shopping at Costco and failing to notice that Sarah is grindingly bored. Enter Marvin, with news that an old operation, Nightshade, has gone public and people will be coming after Frank and Marvin. Frank is wanted by the feds and killers, among them the characters played by McDonough, Zeta-Jones and Lee. And the key to the whole thing may be held by another figure from Frank’s past, played by Hopkins.

Frank’s attempt to save himself and resolve unfinished business from Nightshade take him to England and Russia. (Willis fans will note that he was in big-screen Russia not long ago in A Good Day To Die Hard.) Sarah not only comes along, but she also insists on being part of the strategizing — especially after Zeta-Jones enters the scene.

One of the nice, goofy touches in the RED films is the inserting of domestic issues into the adventures. However high the body count, the film is funny, and director Dean Parisot — who made the much-loved Galaxy Quest — knows how to balance the action and comedy tones. So the Frank-Sarah relationship is an ongoing topic in RED 2, nudged along by advice from the other characters.

Parker’s Sarah has an almost crazed desire for excitement, and her responses to inclusion are child-like at times. And that’s in contrast to Willis’ Frank, a guy whose assurance with fists and guns is very different from his uncertainty about women. He’s a more comic, if even more lethal, version of John McClane in the earliest Die Hard movies.

For most of its running time, RED 2 seems more briskly paced than RED, the players more comfortably settled into their roles. It does falter near the end, as it struggles to tie up its plot, which proves less entertaining as it goes along. But the characters and acting hold up nicely. I expect to be back for the already-planned RED 3.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and, including in the HeldenFiles Online, He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or

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