Generally speaking, it’s not high praise when the critic says, “The cast seems to be having a blast.” Who cares if the cast is having fun, if we in the audience aren’t in on the amusement? Perfect example: Grown Ups (and presumably Grown Ups 2, which I mercifully spared myself from). I’m sure Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, et al had the time of our lives. Too bad the movie sucked.
I make a slight exception, though, when it comes to Red and now its follow-up, Red 2. (Not Reds 2, people. Although I’d love to see what those crazy commies are up to these days!)
John Malkovich and Bruce Willis are both good actors (well, okay, one good actor; the other, a great movie star) who have been known to phone it in. I didn’t think it was possible, but Willis was so listless in A Good Day To Die Hard, he didn't smirk once! He had been de-smirked (desmirkafied?)! His eyes didn’t even twinkle! Twinkly eyes and smirking is what the man does, people! (His was the most diffident recitation of “Yippee kay-yay mother-#@&^*s!” known to man.)
As for Malkovich, he sometimes acts as though he just ate a big meal and is waiting for his check.
But both Malkovich and Willis seem to really enjoy their parts as “retired” CIA agents who still have some tricks up their sleeves. Their infectiously good moods help to smooth over some rough edges in the script.
I felt about Red 2 pretty much the same way I felt about Red. It’s clever and amusing, but not quite as clever and amusing as it seems to think it is. (Also, it’s way more violent than necessary, but such is life at the multiplex in 2013.)
Of course, Helen Mirren never phones it in. Instead, she elevates every film she’s in with her mere presence. And she obviously relishes the opportunity to play a sexy badass M16 agent, double-barreled guns blazing, who helps the boys on their mission.
Mary Louise Parker’s character is some sort of weird throwback—a kind of ditzy dame who wants to be her boyfriend’s sidekick/mol and accidentally backs her way into a kind of extreme competence—but she plays the part so well and with such giddy enthusiasm, she’s irresistible.
Catherine Zeta Jones is on hand as a slinky KGB seductress who is described as Willis’s character’s “kryptonite.”
Rounding out the cast, Anthony Hopkins, another wily pro, has some good moments as a nuclear physicist who may or may not have lost all his marbles. (He’s the one who has built the missing nuclear weapon that sets the plot in motion.) And I really liked the cool physical swagger of Byung-hun Lee, playing an assassin sent to kill the boys, even if his English seemed recited by rote.
The first Red was a hit based partly on the novelty of assembling such an A-list cast (it had Morgan Freeman, too…but if you saw the original, you know he’s, uh, indisposed for the sequel.) I’ll be curious to see how well Red 2 does. It has most of the same charm, but a little less of the novelty. But hey, at least the cast had fun!