BRUCE WILLIS AND GANG ARE BACK IN RED 2, A PERFECT RECIPE OF ACTION, COMEDY AND CHEMISTRY BETWEEN AN OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE CAST 

Director:  Dean Parisot

Starring:  Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Helen Mirren, Byung-hun Lee, Neal McDonough and Anthony Hopkins

Studio:  Summit Entertainment

Length:  1 Hr and 56 Min

Rated:  PG

Sometimes the performance of a single actor can make a good movie a great one (see Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar winning performance in last year’s Lincoln).  Other times, a single performance may be the only reason to see a movie (see half of Morgan Freeman and Samuel L. Jackson’s respective resumes) and sometimes you get a group of actors who share such excellent chemistry, their collective screen time makes the movie (see Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in this summer’s crudely hilarious The Heat).  The strength of the cast was one of the secrets behind the original Red’s success and Red 2 reunites most of the players from the original.  The result is another top-notch action comedy where the work of the ensemble cast alone is worth the price of admission.

Elite CIA operative Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) has settled back into retirement and has been re-designated R.E.D., Retired Extremely Dangerous.  Frank is trying to achieve domestic bliss with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who looks like she’s getting ready to keel over from boredom.  But the action hungry  Sarah shouldn’t worry because before things can become too stale for the happy couple, Marvin (John Malkovich) pops back into their lives, bearing ominous warnings.  It isn’t too long before the three of them find themselves on the run from the entire espionage community and a handful of deadly assassins, collecting clues as to why they’re being hunted and blowing a lot of things up and shooting a lot of guns along the way.  As it turns out, the only way to clear their names and shake the hit men on their trails is to essentially save the world, which means joining forces with Frank’s old flame Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), teaming back up with the elegantly lethal Victoria (Helen Mirren), matching wits with ruthless CIA agent Jack Horton  (Neal McDonough) and chasing down the brilliant Dr. Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), who after spending over three decades in a British insane asylum, makes Marvin look stable.

Director Dean Parisot is smart enough to sit back and let his outstanding cast take the lead on Red 2.  It isn’t so much the quality of the stars assembled for the sequel, but that each actor is a brilliant match for their character.   Willis gets to abandon the purse lipped, rock jawed lone wolf he usually portrays in any kind of action movie, instead getting to play a genuinely nice guy but one who can kill you with his eyebrows.  Malkovich is perfect as the unhinged Martin and his facial expressions deliver more punch lines than his dialogue.  Zeta-Jones smoulders as the sultry Russian General Katja, a super sexy ghost from Frank’s past that haunts the adventure seeking, slightly neurotic yet mostly sweet Sarah, nicely played by Mary-Louise Parker.  Helen Mirren is more than convincing as the dignified yet unrelenting killing machine Victoria and Byung-hun Lee looks like he could well be Hollywood’s next action sensation.  Even Sir Anthony Hopkins gets to stretch his quirky muscles as the more than vaguely insane Dr. Bailey, who has all the secrets our band of merry mercenaries need locked away in the insane labyrinth that is his mind.

The cast are given a strong script to work with, with a few healthy twists and turns and plenty of snappy, witty dialogue.  There’s also a generous dose of slap stick as well, and Frank, Sarah and Marvin come across as a covert three amigos, bouncing barbs off one another while dodging bullets and bad guys.  The leads all carry their weight with efficient ease in Red 2, but the final product is more than the sum of its acting parts and the cast share an excellent chemistry that Parisot takes advantage of with great results.  Whether it’s Frank doting protectively on Sarah or Sarah and Katja bickering over Frank or Marvin just being Marvin, it’s obvious the cast had a great time making Red 2.  If you’re looking fo pure entertainment, odds are you’ll have a great time watching it too.

Shayne Kempton

RED ALERT

Advertisements

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY LACKS SOME OF THE MAGIC OF THE CLASSIC MONSTERS INC., BUT ITS STILL A FUN FLICK THAT WILL APPEAL TO YOUR INNER CHILD

Starring:  John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Steve Buscemi 

Director:  Dan Scanlon

Studio:  Disney/Pixar

Length:  1 Hr 51 Min

Rated:  G

     They’re back.  Or should I say, they’re here.  Monsters University brings back loveable monsters Sully and Mike and introduces a fresh batch of characters in this prequel to Disney/Pixar’s 2001 animated hit Monsters, Inc.  University is the prequel that tells the story of how the gruesome twosome met and became the best of friends while also becoming the greatest Scarers in Monstropolis history.  While it isn’t as good as the original tale, University is still a nice little tale about the value of friendship gift wrapped in a slick, colourful package that kids will find a laugh riot.  And there’s still enough of the old juice to appeal to the inner child locked away in most adults as well.

         Monstropolis is powered by the screams of terrified children, and the monsters who venture through portals into the human world to frighten those screams out of unsuspecting young tots are known as Scarers.  They’re the rock stars of the monster city, revered like professional athletes, complete with trading cards.  Every monster aspires to be a Scarer, and one-eyed Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) is no different.  An outsider his entire life who never really fit in anywhere, Mike is determined to be a Scarer from a young age.  He devotes every waking moment to studying the art of scaring, earning acceptance to the Scarer’s program at Monster University against the odds.  Even at Monsters’ U though, Mike fails to fit in, looked down on by the other monsters training to be Scarers as too small and not scary looking.  Mike has his work cut out for him, with countless hours of study ahead of him to make up for his lack of natural scariness.  Enter Jimmy “Sully” Sullivan (John Goodman), a hulking brute blessed with fangs, claws and a bone rattling roar whose the latest in a long line of accomplished Scarers.  Sully’s coasted by on his natural talent and his family name his entire life, and thinks that study is a waste of time.  A natural-born Scarer, things just click for Sully, even when they’re the result of Mike’s hard work and ingenuity.  The two quickly find themselves on opposite ends of a fierce rivalry, but through a reckless turn of events by the feuding monsters, they get themselves thrown out of the Scarers program, their only salvation lies in winning the Scare Games, an event between fraternities to determine the best scarers on campus.  Mike and Sully reluctantly find themselves on the same side, teamed up with the least scary outcasts at Monster U.  If through some miracle they win the scare games the whole team of adorable rejects are back in the scare program.  If they lose, Mike and Sully are expelled from Monsters U forever.

     Pixar has earned itself a reputation for gathering all-star voice casts, and Monsters University is no exception.  Memorable standouts include the draconic Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), a legendary Scarer who puts chills into other Monsters, and Johnny (Nathan Fillion) the charismatic head of Roar Omega Roar, the most popular fraternity on campus and the defending Scare Games champs.  Mike and Sully’s band of misfits are also perfectly cast, with sitcom veterans Sean Hayes and Dave Foley voicing the two-headed, dancing monster  Terry/Terri, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day voicing Art, the New Age Philosophy major who resembles a furry purple slinky.  Alfred Molina gives life to Professor Knight, a hard-nosed scare instructor, Steve Buscemi returns to voice the slithering chameleon Randy Boggs (and we discover the root of the rivalry between the devious Randy and Sully in Monsters, Inc.) and John Ratzenberger makes his traditional Pixar cameo.  All in all, Pixar continues to assemble the best voice casts of any of the major animators.

     But the truth is Monsters University just isn’t as good as Monsters, Inc. was.  It lacks the same energy, the same freshness that the original boasted.  It doesn’t stretch the imaginative boundaries the way it’s predecessor did, the way Pixar has come to be known for.  I’ve been a huge fan of Pixar’s since they exploded onto the scene with 1995’s Toy Story, but this seems to be a recurring theme as of late.  While 2011’s Cars 2 was a box office success, it didn’t enjoy the same level of financial success as previous Pixar efforts (or the same level of critical praise; more than one critic referred to it as Pixar’s first “dud”).  Last summer’s Brave was pretty successful at the box office as well, especially when it found itself competing with the likes of The Avengers, The DarK Knight Rises and the Amazing Spiderman, but it lacked the epic scope Pixar had mastered in the past.  Even Monsters University’s preceding mini-feature, The Blue Umbrella, seems forced, a motion to go through because people expect it.  While I enjoyed all three movies, it just seems that Pixar has lost some of its original charm.  The fact that two of three aforementioned titles are sequels can’t be a coincidence, and while I would love to see a sequel to The Incredibles, it may be time for Pixar to return to mining new material instead of trying to catch lightning in the same bottle over and over again.  Alas, with a Finding Nemo sequel (Finding Dory) scheduled for the summer of 2015 , Pixar seems intent on seeing just how many more dollars they can squeeze out of established properties.  Although having said that, I have high hopes for next May’s Pixar release, tentatively titled The Good Dinosaur.

     But while Monsters University  seems destined to live in the shadow of its original namesake, it’s still a pretty decent flick in its own right.  You could do worse this summer season, and if you can, take it in with a bunch of kids (trust me, they’ll find the slapstick hilarious).  And with a little luck, there should be enough magic in University to tease a few laughs out of your own inner child.  you know, the one who still believes there’s a monster hiding in your closet.

Shayne Kempton

MONSTERS SQUARED