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Film review: RED 2*

By Preston Wilder

What’s the protocol for famous stars pottering about in clearly unworthy vehicles in the twilight of their years? How should they play it? After a veritable summer of oldies – four (4) new releases starring Oscar-winning senior citizens in July and August – we can offer some general suggestions.

Acknowledging that old age is real, and can wreak profound changes in a person, is generally better than pretending one is still as virile/beautiful as in one’s youth. Christopher Walken (seen in Stand Up Guys, though he did a similar act in last year’s Seven Psychopaths) is a model in this respect, changing his persona from psychotic younger man to introverted, gentle, subtly dotty older man; Robert Redford, on the other hand, makes an unlikely action hero – and equally unlikely father of an 11-year-old girl – in The Company You Keep, while Julie Christie in the same film has an impossible task as the ageless Spirit of the 60s (though she has aged well). Looking casual is also a wise move. Robert De Niro was dire in The Big Wedding, but at least he seemed like he didn’t really care either way – which is better than trying too hard, as Al Pacino arguably did in Guys. Speaking of which: Viagra jokes should be avoided, ditto a relationship between an older man and a much younger woman. Unless you’re Bruce Willis, of course.

Actually, Bruce is only nine years older than Mary-Louise Parker – but it seems a lot more in RED 2, mostly because Ms. Parker is the token innocent in a circle of RED (Retired & Extremely Dangerous) older people. There’s Bruce, of course, though he doesn’t have much of a character to play after the first 15 minutes. There’s John Malkovich as his old CIA comrade, who appears in those first 15 minutes – while our hero’s trying to go straight and settle down with perky Mary-Louise – then fakes his own death and embroils Bruce in a plot to track down a nuclear device. There’s Helen Mirren as a British assassin with a regal bearing. And there’s Anthony Hopkins, the oldest of the lot (he’ll be 76 in December) and the maddest, playing a nutty professor with a mannered logorrhea that’s the Great Actor equivalent of bringing a bazooka to a duck-hunting party.

There’s really only one joke in RED 2 (as there was in the better – but still mediocre – original): they’re old, but they’re killers. It’s an action-pic variation on the Profane Granny, the familiar gag of the silver-haired old lady who swears like a sailor then goes back to looking innocuous. Actually there’s another, related joke, viz. that being killers comes so naturally to these lethal veterans that they do it absent-mindedly, like washing dishes – as e.g. when Mirren talks relationships with Bruce on the phone (“You have to be supportive”) while casually shoving corpses into an acid bath. The film gets laughs from skewed moral values, especially in the banter. “You betrayed me. You set me up. You tried to kill me, I tried to kill you…” “Those were good times, weren’t they?”

Some will find the sight of Oscar winners wielding sniper rifles hilarious in itself, especially when they’re known as serious thespians – but in fact RED 2 is a slog, wildly overlong and far too pleased with itself. There’s too much action and it’s too over-the-top, the (attempted) tongue-in-cheek humour fitting badly with the big-budget wrecking of cars, buildings, helicopters, etc. Nor does the film treat its human assets any better, totally wasting Malkovich who was the best thing in RED: his role here is mostly to provide exposition (“She’s Frank Moses’ kryptonite”) and suffer endless reaction shots where he looks slackly puzzled, like a live-action Goofy – though he does get a cherishable moment right at the end, sitting in a bar in Caracas with a Carmen Miranda hat made partly of fruit. Mirren gets more to do but does it poorly (the scene where she poses as a nutter who thinks she’s Mary Queen of Scots (!) being probably the nadir), while the dialogue’s stabs at wit are sometimes cringe-worthy: “If there’s one thing I know, it’s women and covert ops,” claims Malkovich. “That’s two things,” points out Willis. “No, grasshopper,” smiles Byung-hun Lee (as a Korean assassin), shaking his head with meaning: “It is not.”

So the film goes on, sinking further into tedium. The body count soars, including lots of innocent bit players; comic-book transitions shift from London to Paris to the Kremlin; David Thewlis turns up as a killer and wine connoisseur known as ‘The Frog’ (Malkovich, later: “I can’t believe you kissed the Frog”; Parker, with a shrug: “I’ve kissed a lot of frogs”). It’s not entirely awful – but it’s second-rate, and overstays its welcome. On the scale of oldie movies released in Cyprus this summer, RED 2 is clearly superior to The Big Wedding, about the same as The Company You Keep (which squeaks by on seriousness of purpose) and a good deal more annoying than Stand Up Guys, which at least had a certain poignancy – meaning that, with summer nearly over, Al Pacino as a near-decrepit crook takes the OAP crown. Looks like those Viagra jokes came in handy after all.


DIRECTED BY Dean Parisot
STARRING Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren
US 2013 116 mins

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