Everyone loves to claim that nothing original ever comes out of Hollywood. In a way, that’s actually right given that most producers don’t go after stories or screenplays that don’t have the promise of a set audience and profit margin. In another way, these unoriginal stories can serve as templates to wrap an original story around. That means the movie finds its market, and the artist can see their vision through… mostly. Honestly, if you had millions of dollars tied up in filmmaking, you wouldn’t consider anything even remotely risky. You would put up the first romantic comedy you found that looked like a proper Katherine Heigl vehicle. Then, you’d swim in a pool of money, lighting your cigars with all the reviews that call you shallow and vapid. All the while Joseph Campbell* spins like a jet turbine in his grave.
Here we have generic action movie A, wrapped up in inspired idea B, and mired by cliche C. Templates aren’t a problem if your story is interesting enough that they can be ignored. It’s an action movie where the main characters are literally a pastiche of generic action movies and have the traits inherent in them cranked up to 11. Bruce Willis is Frank Moses, a retired CIA operative who is called back into the field when his longtime friend Marvin lets him know that the government wants him dead. For a second time. Along the way they pick up Helen Mirren, as the classy assassin Victoria, and Anthony Hopkins, as a slightly loopy scientist. Then they save the world. The problem with cliché is that in order to be memorable, you can’t just use it. You have to transcend it.
This is a movie that knows what tropes are, but doesn’t know what irony is. Hence a lot of what happens on screen may be flashy, but none of it is very lasting because once you go, “Hey, these people are too old to be doing these kinds of things”, there isn’t much else to gawk at. Everything is played tongue in cheek, but it doesn’t know where to go past that because there isn’t enough to the plot or the characters or the staging to really say anything. People like to argue about the difference between parody and satire, but all it really comes down to is that satire has a point. Remember all those times that Tina Fey played Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, but they didn’t have to alter that much from the actual transcript of whatever interview they were mocking? That was satire, because you had to stop after you looked back and forth between the parody and the original and think “Wow, this is a Vice Presidential candidate?” This movie doesn’t attempt to be that intelligent. What this comes down to is the simple idea that it’s funny when actors who have earned a certain amount of prestige for their serious roles play those same roles again for laughs.
The action doesn’t skip a beat, and a lot of the humor lands but there’s nothing really interesting about what’s going on because just like the audience is in on the joke, so are the characters. Everything goes in one ear and out the other. For a movie that just made it to TV, I wouldn’t say that’s a reason to pass up on it. In fact, given just how innocuous this film is it might be worth a recommendation to see these actors portray versions of their customary archetypes, except with guns (or more guns, depending). Beyond that, there isn’t much to it.
Check out RED 2 across HBO’s platforms or on HBOGo to discover whether this band of actors gives up enough action for you! Maybe, the trailer will help you decide?
*Joseph Campbell wrote “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, a book essentially outlining how most narratives of any story generally hit the same plot points. While this was a book concerning more sociological approach, a large number of people have taken this as a “How to” guide for writing easy stories*