DVD Release Date: November 26, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: July 19, 2013
Rating: PG-13 (for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material)
Genre: Action
Run Time: 116 min
Directors: Dean Parisot
Cast: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Byung Hun Lee

With comic book movies taking up all the screen space and pop culture hot air, it's surprising when one actually sneaks in under the radar. In 2010, RED – an adaptation of a DC-branded limited graphic novel series – did just that. Made on a modest budget and released with little fanfare, RED went blockbuster on the strength of a slick look, dry wit, and really strong cast of Hollywood pros who were clearly having a great time.

Now comes the no-brainer sequel RED 2 with a promise of more of the same... and for the most part, it delivers. We get another romp of too-good-for-retirement government hitmen (R.E.D. is an acronym for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous") played by some well-aging stars who seem to have the same problem. RED 2 isn't as good as the original; a mere carbon copy, really. The concept, by default, isn't as fresh (and barely was to begin with) and the direction more workmanlike, but on the whole it's a fun diversion to have the gang back together making quips while dodging bullets and outfoxing fairly formidable bad guys.

As most comic book movies contort themselves into serialized mythologies, one of the refreshing throwback qualities of the RED films is their stand-alone storylines. Although seeing the original first would have its benefits, it's not remotely necessary in order to follow (or enjoy) the high-octane antics that unfurl here. The narrative ambitions are simple - in a good way - with a focus on well-staged action.

Returning for another go-round are Frank Moses (Bruce Willis, A Good Day to Die Hard), his eccentric partner Marvin (John Malkovich, Warm Bodies), and Frank's now-serious girlfriend but espionage novice Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker, The Spiderwick Chronicles). British MI6 counterpart Victoria (Helen Mirren, Hitchcock) also plays into the mix, along with a bit from flamboyant Russian operative Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox, The Bourne Supremacy).

It wouldn’t be a sequel without a couple of new big stars thrown in, namely Catherine Zeta-Jones (Side Effects) as Russian agent Katja and Frank's old flame, Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock) as a disturbed British nuclear physicist, and Korean martial arts sensation Byung-hun Lee (G.I. Joe) who, along with attracting the ever-growing Asian audience, serves as Frank's nemesis.

Basically, there's a next-gen nuclear bomb dubbed "Nightshade" that has surfaced after decades of being lost. The device is tied to Frank's past (and people in it), and rather quickly he finds himself duly framed, wanted, and on the run. The mission isn’t just to find the bomb but also to clear his name. As stakes go it's boilerplate but enough to kickstart a globe-trotting excursion into international intrigue, heavy-duty shoot-em-ups, high-speed car chases, visceral fights, and the occasional explosion.

RED 2 does just about everything RED did, just not quite as well. The original had a breezy charm and sophisticated wink to its proceedings, some strong character dynamics, and did it all with flair. The sequel makes attempts at all the same elements, but this time the execution is often forced. Despite the return of the first film's screenwriters, the banter feels both simplistic and desperate (with actors occasionally mugging for laughs), and the running joke of Frank and Sarah's domestic squabbles (she wants adventure, he's over-protective) is generic and wears thin almost immediately. The characters, too, come off more as "types" and little else, with only Hopkins offering layers that feel spontaneous or surprising.

After a slow start in a Costco, the tempo ramps up as the film strikes a nice balance between action scenes and character interludes (basic though they may be). It's not wall-to-wall overkill; RED 2 has just the right amount of action – and when it does, it pours it on through gunplay, martial arts, both on the streets and through the air. Nevertheless, while the action is staged with competence, energy, and even occasional invention, it lacks style. To the extent it has any, director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest, and new to this franchise) merely rips-off and restages the original RED's signature stunts and visual gags.

It's also important to note that while the violence is relatively bloodless, it's very intense at times – replete with bones breaking, occasional stabbings, bullet-riddled destruction, and a high body count. Though unlikely to induce nightmares, parents may still find its cavalier approach to mass-scale violence inappropriate for children.

It's been twenty-five years since Bruce Willis went from small screen fame to big screen stardom with 1988's unexpected hit Die Hard, a movie that reinvented the action template and still serves as a standard-bearing touchstone. A few recent flicks this year have tried to recapture that Old School Action but failed (a fifth Die Hard, for one, along with a couple of "Die Hard in The White House" flops). Red 2 won’t be a classic by any stretch, and is really nothing more than an entertaining (if instantly-forgettable) distraction, but it plays like the classics well enough to at least make you feel like you got your money's worth.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Casual drinking of wine. Narcotics used by agents to drug people.
  • Language/Profanity: Three uses of the S-word, four uses of the B-word, one A-word, and two instances of crude language synonyms for male genitals.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: A few instances of passionate kissing. Partial buttocks nudity seen in non-sexual context.
  • Violence/Other: Multiple point-blank gun killings. A lot of gunplay, destruction, shooting and killing indiscriminately, and an overall high body count. A man is stabbed in neck with a chair-leg. A man is smothered to death with a pillow. Bodies put in tubs and melted with acid (though the melting is not seen). A man is hit by a speeding car. Several violent fights, with martial arts; bones heard breaking, people are killed. Some destruction by explosions.

Publication date: July 19, 2013