Old Boys' Network
The modest success of Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables was a horse’s head in Hollywood’s bed. It sent a clear message: that patrons still wanted to see the megastars of yesteryear, creaky though they now were, mercenary in mercenary roles. Red capitalised on this lead, uniting old pros like Bruce Willis and John Malkovich as a couple of rested spooks forced back into action. The result was another modest success. But in Hollywood, a culture so risk averse that studio CEOs have their walnut salads tested by dutiful interns, lest they be poisoned, even a minor hit is worth sequelising. Consequently we have Red 2 – a sort of mid-range Mission: Impossible.
Like the first Red, the movie pivots on a reluctant Willis (though isn’t he always these days?) forced to rejoin the band and help save the world. The incidental plot, featuring an old cold war doomsday device and the mad scientist that built it (a borderline unconscious Anthony Hopkins) is an excuse to flit between foreign cities, specifically those where Willis is still a big box office draw: London, Paris and Moscow. Anywhere in fact but the United States where domestic neophiles know Bruce only as the old Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The movie’s structuring gag is that action man Willis wants a quiet life of rote domesticity (a stretch for an actor who always seems so engaged and ebullient on screen) while his girlfriend, the wide-eyed, uber-girly Mary-Louise Parker, wants to load up and live the life of an international spy. Add the propensity for everyone, friend or foe, to offer relationship advice to the meathead lead, and you’ve got something like a comedy. The only problem is that it’s a screenplay light on jokes and Bruce, whose lachrymose turn suggests he’s fighting through private grief while trying to give a performance, barely shows. The poor guy looks so tired, so lacking in vitality, that it’s tempting to suggest he follow his character’s lead and retire.
Dean Parisot, taking over from Robert Schwentke, resolves to keep it light and frenetic, but if a screenplay ever needed hyperactive stars with monstrous egos to dig deep, ad-lib and create lightning in a bottle moments of hilarity, this is it. Unfortunately in a movie where everyone from the editor to composer Alan Silvestri is on cruise control, the only energetic turn comes from Louise-Parker. Why unfortunate, you ask? Because it’s a frighteningly regressive part. Parker’s ditsy, material girl with a child’s brain shtick tests the patience. If only 29% of speaking parts in movies are now female roles it begs the question: what percentage of those are worth hearing?