Iko Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman go at it with hooks in "The Raid 2." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
‘The Raid 2’ Director: Gareth Evans Stars: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra Rating: NR 2 (out of 5) Globes
Genre movies, especially ones with lots of fighting, have always had the same problem: The viewer gets a handful of stellar, awe-inspiring set pieces surrounded by thumb-twiddling plot about which few care one whit. It turns out that fat was there for a reason. The Indonesian action spectacular “The Raid: Redemption” removed them, meaning it was one smackdown after another after another, for nearly two hours. The result was an action lover’s dream — in theory. In practice it was exhausting, even boring. (Though it was great if watched in shifts.) The mind, like the body, can get worn down, even when all you’re doing is marveling at exquisitely choreographed punches, kicks and knife-stabs. You need mental buffers of tedium.
The inevitable sequel, “The Raid 2” — which features no raids — goes more traditional. Where the first simply had dudes beating and stabbing and shooting each other to death in a building, this one has a bona fide plot — a needlessly complicated, never terribly involving one featuring characters defined by a single trait, even if that trait is simply “belligerent.” (One is named “Baseball Bat Man;” another, “Hammer Girl.” She’s the token female fighter, which is one more than the first.) The plot is gang boilerplate, something about the slimy scion (Arifin Putra) of one organization getting in bed with another.
Still, the hero from the first returns. Do you even remember him? Probably not, but he was Rama (Iko Uwais), a rookie cop who nonetheless was the last man standing. This time, he goes deep undercover to infiltrate a crime family for reasons laboriously explained in one of many tedious expository scenes in between fits of borderline nauseating ultraviolence. The gore here, like the existence of a story, is next-next-next level. People’s faces are blown apart by shotguns, fighters get their bodies torn open during a hook fight, and some poor guy’s face is held to a grill for a solid minute because fanboys.
And here’s the problem (or one of them): Director Gareth Evans goes too far toward plot when his gift is for escalating insanity. His best work isn’t the first “Raid” but rather his contribution to “V/H/S 2,” where he keeps ramping things up in increasingly loopy, horrifying ways. “The Raid 2,” meanwhile, keeps stopping and starting, introducing a melange of brutality then hitting the brakes just when a lather had been worked up. It would be tolerable at a reasonable length, but Evans insists on being a different kind of exhausting, jerking us hither and thither between tedious exposition and knock-down, drag-out hurtin’ for a punishing 2 ½ hours.
Apparently “The Raid 2” was the story Evans wanted to tell before budget constraints tied him down to a single location. He hit on his great idea by accident, when he meant to do his hubristic, super-sized sophomore slump first. Of course there’s pockets of isolated greatness, and Evans, a Welshman who's found a hotbed of untapped buttkickers in Indonesia, still knows how to stage assault. He has no idea how to stage two people talking, which is what devours half the running time. At least its peppered highlights will soon hit YouTube, where they belong.