(Video on Demand, December 2013) The original Red dared to combine aging action stars with quirky comedy and strong action sequences to deliver a film that wasn’t entirely successful, but remained distinctive enough to distinguish itself in a crowded field. This sequel is slightly improved by a better understanding of how to combine humor with action, and it can dispense with the tedious work of introducing its main characters. Bruce Willis plays his familiar world-weary tough-guy role, quipping when he’s not exasperated at being thrown once again out of retirement. Among the returning cast, Helen Mirren is as much fun as ever as a top assassin, while John Malkovich is a bit less crazy (but more sympathetic) this time around, even as Mary Louise Parker furthers her transition from adrenaline junkie to rookie operative. There’s a fascinating “throwback to the cold war era” atmosphere as the action goes well beyond the borders of the United States and to Europe, with Anthony Hopkins bringing new laughs as a crazed weapons designer and Catherine Zeta Jones earning a few chuckles of her own as a once-fatale assassin. While the CGI works gets a bit tiresome by the end of the final chase sequence, most of the other action scenes are good enough. Red 2 doesn’t work on a particularly high level, but it’s adequate and in some ways moves past the whole “retired action heroes” shtick into a post-Cold War plot that seems to grow organically out of the characters’ age. It works just fine as an unassuming action film, and even a little better as a sequel.
(In theaters, November 2010) By now, the action/comedy genre is so familiar that everyone should cheer whenever a quirky off-beat project tries to do something differently. While originality isn’t always an advantage (Knight and Day showed that quirkiness can’t replace solid screenwriting), films like Red can tweak the usual formula and make it feel just a bit fresher than usual. The story is familiar (a renegade secret agent tries to find out who wants him dead, accompanied by a reluctant love interest), but the details aren’t as overused: The agent is retired, his allies are old and paranoid, his enemies are deep within the government and his would-be girlfriend initially has to be tied, drugged and dragged along before she comes to appreciate the action-comedy lifestyle. Red flies around the United States, literally showing postcards along the way –which may give you an idea of its particular sense of humour. Bruce Willis may be the Red’s headliner, but the real appeal of the film is through Mary Louise Parker’s wide-eyed evolution from house-bound kitten to adrenaline junkie. Helen Mirren is delightful as an aging assassin, while John Malkovich has a typical turn as a deeply paranoid retiree. Action highlights include a shootout in New Orleans and the use of heavy artillery in a Chicago hotel parking lot. Much of the plot is routine, but the film is a lot more enjoyable during the comedic moments between the characters. Fans of the original comic book may want to forget all about the source material, because Red is quirky and light-hearted whereas Warren Ellis’ story was sombre and nihilistic. While Red often goes spinning too fast in all sorts of directions to be truly effective, the result isn’t too bad as long as you don’t expect the sort of straight-ahead action-with-quips blockbuster: Red is handled with another kind of sensibility, and if the result is often a bit too off-beat to be fully enjoyable, it delivers what is expected with a little bonus that no one asked for.