The cast of the original "Red" movie was dynamic and played off each other well. What makes "Red 2" special for a sequel is how well it was written to cater to its cast, which is definitely its biggest strength, without insisting on itself.
Bruce Willis (who plays Frank), Mary-Louise Parker (who plays Sarah, Frank's girlfriend), John Malkovich (who plays Marvin) and Helen Mirren (who plays Victoria) all reprise their roles delightfully and class, even in the midst of their shootouts and action scenes. "Red 2" gives the actors some room to breathe and has fluid scenes and dialogue that aren't contrived or constructed to shove unnecessary comedy down the audience's throat.
The plot of "Red 2" is about typical spy business. The RED crew (an acronym for Retired and Extremely Dangerous) must try to track down a scientist who was helping build a deadly weapon years ago that would be dangerous in the wrong hands; it doesn't get more textbook than that, but it was still interesting to some degree. Especially when, as per any spy movie, alliances change and backstabbing is always a threat.
Along the way, several new characters come into play. There's the crazy ex-spymate-who-also-had-a-thing-with-Frank girl (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) who comes back into the picture. There's the deadly spy-renown assassin (played by Byung-hun Lee, of "G.I. Joe" fame). There's even the good-guy-who-could-be-a-bad-guy FBI agent (played by Neal McDonough, recently a role player in "Captain America").
This movie had all the cliché roles, mysterious twists that are both predictable and surprising, even the usual crazy stunts and shootouts through which it's hard to believe the good guys could survive and ridiculous to think that a bad guy's aim is that bad.
All of that is just the backdrop for what "Red 2" is really all about. The overall creative story of "Red 2" involved Frank and his girlfriend. In the first one, she discovers he was a spy and gets kind of freaked out at first before coming around. This time around, though, Frank is burdened with the task of trying to protect Sarah while trying to do his super secret, highly dangerous (for Sarah only) spy stuff.
Sarah wants none of that. In fact, Sarah insists on teaming with the crew and learning how to be a spy herself. This is where the true comedic gold of "Red 2" shines. The interactions between Willis, Malkovich and Parker are heartwarming and ironic, even a bit tongue-in-cheek a couple of times. Marvin is constantly trying to mediate between Frank and Sarah, who are acting like an old married couple as they work out the kinks of their unique relationship.
On a side note, why isn't Mary-Louise Parker more popular and in more movies? She is fantastic. She has a great timing and facial expressiveness to her humor and handles the few heavy dialogue scenes as well as all the over-the-top action scenes smoothly and naturally. She needs to be a more prominent actress.
One of her best scenes was when she had to pretend to be standing guard to keep infiltrators out of an area while the rest of the crew searches for the weapon inside this bunker-like facility. While she's standing guard, though, she gets bored and kind of loses her focus and lazily walks around until random bad guys walk by and she quickly has to shape up and stiffly guard the door again. It was kind of classic comedy, and really enjoyable.
The final major new character is the scientist, played by Anthony Hopkins. This was one of Hopkins' best performances in a long time. His character has been locked in prison for more than three decades because of his involvement with creating this doomsday weapon. Needless to say, he's lost a little of his touch with reality, or at least how to behave normally. Hopkins gets frantic and skiddish, but comes back to his senses on a dime, leaving those around him a bit confused. Good stuff.
The editing of the movie suffices, particularly through a big fight scene with Willis and Lee. There are a couple clever gadgets and tricks present, which are mandatory for good spy movies, though more would've added to the fun. But it's the entire cast that makes "Red 2" far more memorable than your average action flick.
Round-up: Grown-ups 2, The Heat
The first "Grown-ups" movie with Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock and company was actually enjoyable.
It had several funny moments, though most were artificial set-ups. It had an interesting backstory that came full circle in the end with a semi-important lesson the characters learned.
"Grown-ups 2" is a terrible sequel that brings back none of the feelings that made the first one tolerable.
The sequel was a bad a story through and through; it's hard to pinpoint what the story really was. The whole movie takes place in one day and revolves around the grown-ups not only reliving their glory days with a throwback 80s party (which was the best part of the movie), but also marking their turf to keep out the next generation, which, in this case, is a standard fraternity of mindless college guys who still have the mental capacity of young adolescents and only care about themselves, their looks and being able to display their "cool" secret handshake in front of everybody.
Not even all the awesome cameos from other celebrities came close to saving "Grown-ups 2," which clearly was meant to take advantage of the first one's moderate success; the original didn't even need a sequel.
Another newly released comedy, "The Heat" tried to pit Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as two opposites who must work together to benefit both themselves and the police force. Bullock, who is no stranger to cop roles, actually does a decent job of adapting to her character, who is not confident, not good at being authoritative and such, something different for the academy-award winning actress.
McCarthy, on the other hand, was brought in to bring laughs to the movie and not actually contribute much else. McCarthy is a comedy neanderthal: she is crass, crude and cusses a lot (not just because of the writing, either). She is blunt and unintelligent with her jokes as she instead depends on delivery style, expressions and mannerisms to force laughs. Not that she great in "Identity Thief" all that much, but this performance was a big step backward for her. It's getting harder and harder to be willing to see her movies.