Review

Review: What 'RED 2' Lacks in Sense, It Makes Up for in John Malkovich's Facial Expressions

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Jul 19, 2013 | 12:12pm EDT

Credit: Summit Entertainment

If you're inclined to see RED 2, it means you probably enjoyed RED. Already, you're a leg up on this reviewer, who didn't find the original all too stimulating. But my experience catching the sequel, situated in a theater surrounded by vehement fans of Bruce Willis' first turn as a former CIA man branded with the "Retired, Extremely Dangerous" label, was a wholly refreshing one. As with any sequel — especially those in the action- or adventure-comedy genre — half the fun is revisiting old favorite characters. That's the gambit of the opening act of a film like RED 2: to entertain questions of "Where are they now?" with the most delightful answers possible.

And even in the subdued reunion of Frank Moses (Willis) and his old partner and pal, certified loon Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), there's a sort of hearty warmth present. Laughter erupts when the latter emerges, incognito, from the aisles on a department store, on the prowl for his buddy in hopes of reattaching him to the mad glory of their younger days. There's nothing outstandingly funny going on, but you laugh and smile, already connected to these men and their relationship by the good graces of the first film.

Credit: Summit Entertainment

While not accomplishing anything altogether new, this is the phenomenon that makes sequels such a spirited treasure: that feeling of "the gang's back together," in which the audience includes itself in that denomination. It's not only the people onscreen who are reteaming with old friends, but the fans who so engaged with RED in the first place — the sequel succeeds in making lovers of the original feel "involved" with the reunion, rewarding fandom with character-driven gags about Willis' stealth, Malkovich's madness, Helen Mirren's awesome frigidity, and Mary-Louise Parker's crazy-eyed bloodlust.

In fact, it's only when RED 2 gets away from its central gang that the film really crumbles. Setting its attention on a behemoth-concept plot, riddled with inexplicable twists and turns, the film comes off more mentally maligned than its characters at some point. When we are forced to spend time with newbie characters — charmless big bad Neal McDonough, disgruntled rookie Byung-hun Lee, and even the great Anthony Hopkins as a senile former agent — we await the return of the charismatic stars. Really just Malkovich, in fact.

Yes, the laughs aren't exactly overflowing in RED 2, but there is no short supply of joy in watching John Malkovich contort his face and worm through difficult conversations as the manipulative, maniacal Marvin. With such a command over nuanced comedy, Malkovich can turn the lackluster script into something of delightful flavor. Whether he's pleading with Willis to join him in the barracks, faking his own death, struggling to disarm a bomb, or draped inexplicably in Carmen Miranda garb, Malkovich is, indubitably, funny. In every other corner of this discombobulated picture, what with its stock characters and alarmingly nonsensical plot, you'll question what the hell these filmmakers are up to... and why, in fact, you're sticking around for the long haul. But as long as Malkovich is on screen, playing zany or basking in the fun familiarity of the RED team as constructed by the first movie, there is fun to be had.

2.5/5

Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter | Follow hollywood.com on Twitter @hollywood_com

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