Film Review: Red 2 – Electric Boogaloo

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th September 2013.

Remember that movie from 2010 which featured Dame Helen Mirren at the helm of a .50 calibre machine gun? Red, which is an acronym for Retired, Extremely Dangerous, also starred “mature” actors Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich playing against type as former black-ops agents called back into action when their lives are threatened by assassins. Oh, and the film was headlined by Bruce Willis playing, um, Bruce Willis. A modest hit at the box office, Red was buoyed by the novelty of seeing highly regarded dramatic actors blowing stuff up.

In yet another example of an unwanted sequel (Kick-Ass 2, The Smurfs 2 or Grown Ups 2 anyone?), Willis, Mirren and Malkovich are joined by Catherine Zeta-Jones and SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS* for even more geriatric hijinks, except that this time there is absolutely no novelty value. Just more of the same…

Frank Moses (Willis) is making an earnest effort to enjoy his retirement with girlfriend Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) when a failed mission from his past returns to haunt him. Reuniting with former colleagues Marvin Boggs (Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich) and Victoria (Mirren), Moses attempts to track down a nuclear weapon hidden beneath the Kremlin by brilliant yet crazy physicist Dr Edward Bailey (SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS). With Russian secret agent, and Moses’ former flame, Katya (Zeta-Jones) plus the world’s best assassin Han Jo-bae (Lee Byung-hun) on their trail, the team blast their way through Paris, London and Moscow.

Red 2 marks three sequels in a row for Bruce Willis who nowadays seems to be acting on autopilot with the engine on smug. I’m pretty certain that you could take scenes from A Good Day to Die Hard, G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Red 2, cut them together and you would never know they are from different films. I’m not entirely sure that Lee Byung-hun, who has now co-starred with Willis on two consecutive films, was even aware that he had moved on to a new production. Explosions… Guns… Bruce Willis… Which film is this anyway?

There is also some very obvious product placement which sees entire scenes take place inside a Costco store and a Papa John’s Pizza outlet. Surely in a movie based on a comic book (there are even animated transitions between scenes to remind you), some fictional stores would suffice? I suppose we all need to eat. And when I eat I like to shop at Costco and enjoy a piping hot pie from Papa John’s Pizza! Cheques can be forwarded to me via the CWD.

Red 2 is not without its charms. There is great chemistry between the leads which generates plenty of funny quips and put-downs. Malkovich steals the show with his mentally unstable Marvin Boggs, a victim of decades of daily LSD doses as an experiment by the CIA. And Mary Louise-Parker is clearly having a great time as Moses’ girlfriend who longs for the exciting life of a secret agent.

Director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) has managed to put together an unremarkable but largely enjoyable sequel that does very little to advance the franchise. For my money, watch the original again instead.

*An actor of such magnitude as SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS requires that you say his name aloud whenever reading this review, no matter where you are enjoying this column. Thank you for your cooperation.

Published in: on September 10, 2013 at 23:52  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

This column was originally published on The Orange Post on Sunday 21st April 2013.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my toy commercials to be 15 – 30 seconds long, rather than a 110 minute post-converted 3D headache inducing bore. Oh bugger, I’ve finished my review already. OK, here’s the long version.

As a child, I was a little too old to really get into G.I. Joe, but I liked the concept. My younger brother collected the action figures, and I enjoyed checking them out and reading the bios that came on the back of the packaging. He also had a G.I. Joe cartoon on VHS that featured the heroes outsmarting the evil Cobra organisation by diverting some biomonster thingy through an apple orchard. Apparently apple seeds contain a tiny amount of arsenic, which destroyed the creature. I will carry this knowledge with me to the grave, regardless of whether it has a factual basis or not.

Unfortunately, 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, directed by Steven Sommers (The Mummy), was a letdown for those of us old enough to carry fond memories of the toys. The storyline was as simple as the apple orchard scenario and despite the best efforts of a decent cast, including Dennis Quaid, Rachel Nichols, Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the movie was little more than a live action cartoon pitched at kids.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation, directed by Jon M. Chu, attempts to right the wrongs of its predecessor by pressing the big red reset button. Much of the original cast and characters are jettisoned. Channing Tatum, now a major Hollywood player, makes a brief appearance to presumably meet contractual obligations. Of the lead cast members, only Jonathan Pryce, Ray Park and Byung-hun Lee return to reprise their roles as the President, ninja Snake Eyes and other ninja Storm Shadow, respectively. Strangely, Lee’s character was the only major character in the original to be killed off.

An attack which wipes out the Joes early on in the film allows a new set of lead characters to emerge in the form of Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrienne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona). Falsely accused of treason by the President (Pryce gives a masterclass in overacting), the new lineup are forced to turn to the original “Joe”, General Joe Colton, played by a bored looking Bruce Willis on autopilot.

What happens next is an overcomplicated plot with lots of explosions. Chu has succeeded in pitching the movie at a more mature audience, however, the story is too messy for there to be genuine stakes, and plot holes abound. For instance, London is obliterated by Cobra’s new weapon with absolutely no repercussions on the storyline or reactions from the characters.

Originally slated for release last June, G.I. Joe: Retaliation was pushed back almost a year to allow for post-conversion into 3D. The end result is a typically unremarkable 3D experience, with the standard complaint of being too dark to follow the action. A box office haul of over $272 million so far, however, suggests that the delay was worth it and that a third instalment is inevitable.

Chu is best known for directing two entries in the Step Up series and the Justin Bieber “documentary” Never Say Never, and proves that he knows his way around an action sequence. A ninja battle on a cliff face is breathtaking. Unfortunately, it has little to do with anything else happening in the film.

“The Rock” has developed a reputation in Hollywood as a franchise saver. His charisma alone is possibly the only, but certainly not compelling, reason to sit through this film.

Published in: on April 27, 2013 at 17:47  Leave a Comment  
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