Talking Movies

July 31, 2013

RED 2

Bruce Willis and John Malkovich return for a second knowing outing as the retired and extremely dangerous spies who just want to be left alone.

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Frank (Willis) is trying to play house with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), but a trip to Costco sees Marvin (Malkovich) warning him that they’re in terrible danger because someone is sniffing around their botched Cold War Op codenamed Nightshade. And sure enough before long MI6 doyenne Victoria (Helen Mirren) cheerfully informs them she’s been hired to kill them, they’re running from a well-resourced bent spook Horton (Neal McDonough), and they’re also running from his employee – the world’s greatest assassin Han (Byung Hun Lee), who has a personal grudge against Frank. And that’s before Frank and Sarah’s relationship is strained to breaking point by Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), his Russian agent Ex, appearing. Can Frank and Marvin get their hands on Nightshade’s weaponry before it gets them killed? And what role does mad Professor Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) play in all this?

RED 2 is a fun caper that works best when it’s at its most absurd. Too often director Dean Parisot is content to merely insert Mirren into daft scenarios and watch the audience smile rather than forcing us to laugh with good gags. But when the gags are forthcoming they’re good. There are a couple of terrific back and forth scenes between Frank and Sarah, and a Zen disagreement between Frank, Marvin and Han. There is also a daft sequence in the Kremlin where Marvin attempts to leave Sarah in charge of guarding a vault while he does spy stuff with Frank that is priceless. Parisot also stages a car chase thru Paris with elan and wit as he never loses focus on the chase’s real interest: it’s another example of ‘helpful’ intervention by Marvin in Frank and Sarah’s relationship.

Willis and Parker continue to be an appealingly believable couple, well, ‘believable’, and Malkovich Fassbenders his way thru proceedings. There is, however, a reason that scriptwriters Jon & Erich Hoeber’s previous work Battleship was instanced in the recent Slate article decrying the baneful effect of Blake Snyder’s scriptwriting book Save the Cat! becoming the literal playbook for all Hollywood blockbusters. You can see all 15 of Snyder’s story beats arriving at the appropriate moments here, including the inevitable and infuriating ‘apparent victory’ – whose ruthless application in The Avengers, Skyfall, Gangster Squad, et al is driving us all slowly crazy. But thankfully, unlike Battleship, there’s enough stupid fun here to counteract the formula. Especially as the ‘thematic statement’ from Marvin to Frank is so wonderfully dumb in concept and wording that its resolution can’t help but be a knowingly parodic moment.

There’s life in the old dogs yet, and while this probably won’t run as long as the Fast & Furious franchise it deserves to match Ocean’s with a trilogy.

3/5

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February 14, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard

Bruce Willis returns as NYPD’s finest terrorist/master-thief-killing  Detective John McClane, once again in the wrong place at the wrong time; this  time with his son.

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McClane is horrified to find his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) has been  arrested in Moscow for killing a man in a nightclub. He flies to Russia, heeding  the warning of his daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) not to make a bad  situation worse. He then, of course, proceeds to make it catastrophic. Jack is  actually an undercover CIA operative trying to protect Komarov (Sebastian Koch),  an oligarch become political prisoner. Komarov has incriminating evidence on  ex-business partner Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov), a man sympathetic to terrorism  and on the point of becoming Defence Minister. Jack’s cover comprehensively  blown by dad he retreats to the safe house run by his Agency handler, Collins  (Cole Hauser). But the unstoppable killers Alick (Radivoje Bukvic) and Irina  (Yuliya Snigir) seem to be one step ahead of the McClanes, and Jack mulishly  refuses John’s advice…

Director (and Dundalk native) John  Moore proved with Behind Enemy Lines  that he could deploy every weapon in the stylistic arsenal, but since then he’s  been serving time putting a glossy sheen on mediocre material. This is his shot  at the big time, but you suspect, despite his unwarranted criticisms of Die Hard 4.0, that he’s still putting a glossy  sheen on sub-par material. The spectacular car-chase following John pursuing  Alick tracking Jack and Komarov doesn’t stint on the vehicular destruction and  Alick’s beast of a machine is a joy to watch. Moore also has a lot of fun with  the thudding ballistics of a helicopter gunship tracking the McClanes down the  façade of a hotel. But, this film is half an hour shorter than all previous  instalments, and that missing 30 minutes would’ve usefully housed humour and  character moments.

Skip Woods’ script shares with his Wolverine plot a terribly disguised  early twist that vitiates a later great twist, and despite being written as a Die Hard it really only latterly feels  like one. There is a glaring reference that cleverly transforms into a traumatic  character death, but while there’re nice moments of musical homage by Marco  Beltrami to Michael Kamen’s iconic score and its appropriation of Beethoven,  frequently we’re treated to Zimmer/Howard Bat-rumblings, and Moore’s hand-held  direction lacks the geographic clarity of McTiernan’s template; something which  Len Wiseman wisely amended his style to synch with in Die Hard 4.0. Acting wise MEW’s bookending  cameo is delightful, while Snigir may (and I say this as a Nikita fan) actually be better than Maggie Q’s 4.0 villainess; her nihilistic rage in  the finale is astonishing. Courtney is physically imposing but he lacks the  endearing charm of Bruce Willis past and present.

This lacks the gleefulness that ‘Yippee-Ki-Yay Mother Russia’ teased, but  it’s an entertaining outing that doesn’t disgrace the franchise.

3/5

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