Bruce Willis pretty much stopped smiling or having much fun at all after The Whole Ten Yards, and really by that point the audience wasn't having much fun either. In the decade or so since that failed sequel, Willis has presented an almost determinedly dour onscreen face. While that's turned his action films into pro-forma forgettable flicks, he did put this aversion to smiling to good use for Wes Anderson in Moonrise Kingdom.
The other notable exception was RED, an over-the-top action comedy adapted from a DC comic that let the one-time wine-cooler pitchman play the stable center to a group of over-the-hill retired superspies. It’s not that he cracked many smiles in the movie, just that we were supposed to find the stone-faced thing funny. Three years later, the same core cast from that film (Willis, Marie Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, and a gloriously unhinged John Malkovich) return for RED 2, another agreeable if overly long globe-trotting low-stakes romp.
The plot finds Frank Moses (Willis), his civilian girlfriend Sarah (Parker), his best friend and former colleague Marvin (Malkovich), and their British counterpart Victoria (Helen Mirren) working together to get their hands on a super-powerful nuclear device created more than three decades before by science whiz Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins). As they flit from London to Paris to Moscow, they run from a wicked Asian assassin (Lee Byung-Hun ) ordered to kill Frank, attempt to get crucial information from an arms-dealing wine-snob, and come face-to-face with a woman from Frank's past (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Director Dean Parisot keeps this featherweight material humming along nicely for at least the first hour. There's a charming chemistry between the various cast members, and Parisot, who has a great nose for offbeat comic moments (he won an Oscar 25 years ago for directing the Steven Wright short The Appointments of Dennis Jennings), lets their interactions play out a little longer than we expect. While that eventually hampers the movie's momentum, it does give us plenty to smile at. Hannibal Lecter fans will savor one brief scene between the two greatest actors to play that part -- Hopkins and Brian Cox.
There's an admirable lack of CG in the movie. Many -- though certainly not all -- of the effects have the feel of being done in-camera, with edits and sound effects employed so that we complete the picture in our minds, and Parisot handles a three-vehicle chase through Paris with an efficient zest. If he only could have lopped thirty minutes or so off of the film's running time, he would not have worn out his welcome. There are just too many reversals and plot twists as the movie plays out. They aren't a problem because they're unbelievable -- this is a picture that expects you to not take it seriously right from the get go -- but because they drag things past the point where the charm of the actors can carry it.
For audiences who grew up on Die Hard, it's a joy to see Willis soften a little; he was always more interesting because he was more vulnerable than Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and all those other Expendables. Die Hard worked because he was trying to save his wife, and since he has the same goal in RED 2, it's nice to be reminded of why he became a star even if the film leaves you wanting more. leave a comment --Perry Seibert