RED 2 ★½

While the film's plot is formulaic drivel and the technical aspects holding this film together resemble Christmas-patterned duct tape, it's only in the addition of Sir Anthony Hopkins and a few passable performances by its sometime charming cast that this film has any redeeming qualities. RED contained an interesting premise centring on retired ex-operatives, one that could have been something special had it not been steered towards the lowest-common-denominator of summer fluff. It really did not need a sequel, and this film does absolutely nothing in the way of expansion from the first film – instead, it throws characters we already don't care about back into boring new situations with banal stakes and trite consequences.

So with some brutal music/sound mixing, mediocre cinematography, unnecessary animated segues and utterly lazy writing, this film must be a vehicle solely for its characters, then? Malkovich, Mirren and Cox play their roles with quirky charm but nobody in this large ensemble seems to put their full spirit behind it. The addition of Byung-hun Lee and Neal McDonough are obvious attempts to inject some not-unwelcome vitality into the mix, but their characters are one-dimensional and thoroughly uninteresting.

It's obvious that this film recognizes what it is – an action comedy – and yet besides Malkovich and Cox there's not a single person in this cast who both understands comedic timing and is able to put it to good use. Mary-Louise Parker, of whom I'm a huge fan and recognize as being a comedic talent in her own right, is completely under-utilized (again) as the adorably aloof tag-along who eye-rolls, eye-bats, and eye-whatevers her way through this nonsense. It's her character that exemplifies the core disappointment of the film: It's got a lot of the pieces to make an interesting and funny film, but nobody involved seems to know what the hell they are doing. Hopkins is the only performer who is able to dimensionalize a character in more than one direction and truly stand out, but his backstory is convoluted and his motivations are ill-conceived.

The fact that, while writing this review, I almost forgot to mention Bruce Willis, the starring protagonist of this feature, should tell you how much his character and performance even register. And last but certainly least, Catherine Zeta-Jones adds another staggeringly awful performance to her career of terrible work (seriously, how is she still booking gigs?).

All of this adds up to a complete failure of a film. I can forgive that this is a fluffy summer action film, and that it doesn't need a sophisticated level of craft to hold it together. But the entire premise hinges on the conceit of retirees kicking ass - something that is inherently funny in concept - but there's nothing in the writing or performances that actually makes that idea funny or compelling in the least. Let's hope nobody sees a reason to try this a third time.