Film reviews: Red 2 | The Conjuring | The Smurfs 2

If Looper and Moonrise Kingdom suggested Bruce Willis was beginning to exhibit a bit more quality control over his career, movies like A Good Day to Die Hard and GI Joe: Retaliation have shown how anomalous those choices were.

Red 2. Picture: Contributed

Red 2 (12A)

Directed by: Dean Parisot

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Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, Brian Cox

Star rating: * * *

Red 2 might have done the same had the bar-lowering confluence of those aforementioned turkeys and Red 2’s own basic competence not made it seem like a step-up from his usual franchise bill-payers. That it’s a breezier film than its leaden predecessor doesn’t hurt matters, even if it does rather depend on a certain familiarity with 2010’s not especially memorable, almost-hit movie about a group of ageing covert assassins called out of retirement when a hit is put on Willis’s former black-ops CIA agent. This one starts with Willis’s character trying to enjoy retirement once again, but soon sees him drawn into a convoluted, globe-trotting spy adventure after he and his long time crony (John Malkovich) are implicated a in spot of international nuclear terrorism. Joining them is Willis’s desperate for adventure girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker), whose presence adds a bickering couple dimension to a one-joke premise built around the entertainment value of seeing older characters doing outlandish stunt work. In this respect, Helen Mirren’s return as a machine-gun wielding British operative is at least amusing this time and watching Willis smirk his way through this is certainly preferable to watching his ongoing debasement of John McClane.

The Conjuring (15)

Directed by: James Wan

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston

Star rating: * * *

As the director of Saw and Insidious, James Wan has twice hit the mark when it comes delivering horror movies with genuine shocks, so it’s too bad that his latest is a triumph of craftsmanship over actual chills. The Conjuring sees Patrick Wilson co-starring alongside Vera Farmiga as a husband-and-wife team of paranormal researchers hired to investigate a house that’s terrorizing the young family of Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor. It’s a story inspired by allegedly true events dating back to the 1970s and while it’s nicely acted and shot with a degree of directorial élan not often seen in modern horror, the film’s bog-standard set-up proves its undoing as multiple tropes familiar from the big horror movies of the 1970s (The Exorcist, The Omen, The Amityville Horror) are recycled yet again. Given that Wan’s most successful films work by taking an intriguing set-up and then going carnival crazy with it, his fidelity to the dubious historical accuracy of this film’s story is puzzling.

The Smurfs 2 (U)

Directed by: Raja Gosnell

Starring: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Katy Perry

Star rating: * *

“If you weren’t in such excruciating pain you’d find this hilarious,” says evil wizard Gargamel towards the end of The Smurfs 2. He’s referring to a torturous pun he’s just made, but his declaration pretty much sums up the experience of watching The Smurfs 2 for anyone over the age of eight. That’s what happens, though, when family audiences turn a fairly terrible live-action/CG-animation hybrid based on a bafflingly successful Belgian cartoon strip into a half-a-billion-dollar-grossing hit. 2011’s The Smurfs was surely the surprise hit of that year, and its success means that anyone with young kids will likely have to suffer through this at some point during the school holidays. Alas the Paris-set story – which revolves around another attempt by Gargamel to learn Papa Smurf’s secret formula for creating Smurf magic – is still rubbish and though there have been some marked improvements to the animation, the voice cast (among them Katy Perry as Smurfette) fail to bring these weird blue creatures to life in a way that makes their appeal in any way fathomable.

Paradise: Faith (18)

Directed by: Ulrich Seidl

Starring Maria Hofstatter, Natalya Baranova, Nabil Saleh

Star rating: * * * *

The second instalment of Ulrich Seidl’s brutally compelling “Paradise” trilogy follows on from last month’s sex-tourism saga Paradise: Love by homing in on the sister of that film’s protagonist and following her as she grapples with her own journey through a sexually lascivious culture. This is Anna Marie (Maria Hofstatter), a pious Christian woman who spends her spare time going door-to-door in a largely fruitless effort to convince sinful neighbours to live a more devout life. In private, she flagellates herself in front of the crucifix she has hanging in her bedroom, an act that takes on a slightly kinky undertone as her encounters with Vienna’s deviants become more bizarre and extreme. Seidl’s penchant for hardcore imagery is very much present (his films are not for the easily shocked), and the demands he makes of his actresses are extraordinary. Nevertheless, thanks to the trust he seems to elicit in Hofstatter, a real sense of pathos for her character emerges as the film progresses, even while Seidl piles ever-more terrible indignities upon her.

Renoir (15)

Directed by: Gilles Bourdos

Starring: Michel Bouquet, Vincent Rottiers, Christa Theret

Star rating: * *

Perhaps there’s a great film to be made about the relationship and the artistic tension that existed between the Impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir and his filmmaker son, Jean.

If so, this rigorously tasteful film isn’t it. Though Jean (blandly played by Vincent Rottiers) would go on to become one of the early masters of cinema following his father’s death 
in 1919, director Gilles Bourdos 
seems wholly uninterested in finding out what made him tick, focusing instead on his attraction to Andrée Heuschling (Christa Theret), his father’s voluptuous muse with whom he embarked on a romantic liaison after returning from the trenches of the First World War (an experience that would inspire his early masterpiece La Grande IIlusion).

Alas Bourdos, who also wrote the script, doesn’t lock onto anything of sufficient dramatic worth and seems more intent on making something that looks as pretty as a picture regardless of the fact that what unfurls is about as interesting as watching paint dry.