“RED 2” and “R.I.P.D.” are both action movies with comic tones, so it is odd that the two of them should have been released on the same July weekend. Nevertheless, they were. And movie fans should celebrate by driving out to the twelveplex.
Of the two films, “RED 2” is less loopy, intended for an audience of adults, and lousy with substantial movie stars—Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Katherine Zeta-Jones, Tim Pigott-Smith, David Thwelis, and Brian Cox. Thrown in gratis is Byung-hun Lee, a young Korean James Bond.
Fans of the genre will remember 2010’s “RED.” In it Willis is Frank, a retired (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) former CIA hit man who has gotten bored. He starts a long-distance flirtation with his paymaster in Kansas City, Sarah (Parker). Then when some higher power sends Karl Urban and waves of thugs to kill him, Frank takes off on the run and picks Sarah up on the way.
Our hero and his old colleague Marvin (Malkovich) are comically capable of taking care of themselves, but they latch on to help as they go along, including a top MI6 assassin called Bunny (Helen Mirren) and her KGB chief admirer Ivan (Cox). Together they shoot up safe houses and interrupt plots and leave themselves at least momentarily safe to continue their slightly paranoiac retirements.
The new movie begins with Frank and Sarah shopping at a discount store. She seems to miss the excitement of their undercover adventures. He would just as soon funny hat-wearing Marvin would disappear. But his old pal tells him an internet leak has suggested the two of them know something about a nuke smuggled into Moscow during the Cold War.
Naturally all sorts of governments are interested in knowing all about this sleeper weapon. Bunny and Han are hired to kill Frank and his associates and a CIA operative played by steely-eyed Neil McDonough wants to capture them and torture information out of them.
What’s almost worse is that while they are in Paris looking for an information source called “The Frog” (Thewlis), they are approached by Katja (Zeta-Jones), with whom Frank has a love/hate relationship. “She’s Frank Moses’s kryptonite,” explains Marvin to the jealous Sarah.
After a couple of escapes from captivity, our heroes fly psychotic weapon-developer Bailey out of London (in a private jet stolen from Han) to Moscow where they meet up with Ivan and begin searching the catacombs of the Kremlin, looking for the old bomb. They get it, but then the reversals begin, with characters turning traitor, the device changing hands, and further chases, escapes, and shoot-outs, all with satisfactory endings.
Malkovich and Parker are the chief comic characters here. He comes and goes like a Cheshire hat, always warning of new difficulties to come. His funeral is, ironically, one of the funniest scenes in the film, as Frank sticks a tie pin into the corpse to make sure his old pal is dead. Or suffering. The eulogy is funny, too.
Later Sarah will tell Marvin that Frank cried at his funeral, though this is not true. This is the sort of thing “the Girl” will do to distract or win over opponents. Almost every time she is set a task in some secret scheme, she ends up advancing the cause by making out with some threatening man. Her girlish enthusiasm for risk is oddly winning.
Malkovich’s success with mugging and funny voices is perhaps more obvious comedy, but it works well here. As they wait in an old safe house, Marvin begins to unwrap a Moon Pie. Sarah asks if it is safe to eat it as it must be thirty years old. “Its before they had sell-by dates,” the old spy explains.
Mirren gets off some jokes, too. When the gang needs her to be accepted into a prison for the insane, she dresses as the Queen and begins reciting lines from Shakespeare—remember that she has played the queen and has performed Shakespeare quite a bit. When she has to fake several deaths in a burning wreck, she has the bodies she needs to salt the site. Where did she get them? “My freezer,” she explains.
The comedy works well. So do the action scenes, which are imaginative. So do the sets, generally speaking, though they are not so fresh.
And in the end you get the second good action comedy of the weekend. “RED 2” is more realistic than “R.I.P.D.,” but it is pretty wild on its own. And it is just as entertaining.