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Sony Pictures Classics
Iko Uwais, left, reprises his role from “The Raid: Redemption” in “The Raid 2.”
Movie review

Choreography kicks butt; story needs CPR

‘The Raid 2’ ** 1/2

“The Raid: Redemption,” which kicked and slugged its way out of Jakarta two years ago, was a work of diabolical genius. Its follow-up, “The Raid 2,” is equally diabolical. But this time the genius is intermittent.

The first film was basically a non-stop action sequence, set almost entirely in a gangster-infested tenement. Beleaguered SWAT cops fought their way to the top of the building, and one of them prevailed through the brutal, claustrophobic combat.

“The Raid 2” features the same hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), and pays homage to the earlier movie by staging many battles in tight quarters, including a car, a prison cell and a walk-in wine cabinet. But the sequel runs nearly an hour longer, and has a less dynamic rhythm.

The brawling itself is every bit as inventive and exhilarating this time around. Writer-director Gareth Evans and his collaborators, essentially the same team as before, have absorbed and refined the tactics of many action masters, notably Hong Kong’s Tsui Hark. The fight choreography – by Uwais and co-star Yayan Ruhian – is brilliant; the filming, editing and sound design are flawless.

The script and acting, however, prove less successful. The story is convoluted without being profound, and while there are some strong secondary performances, Uwais is only interesting when in motion. He’s much better at punching than brooding, pondering or vacillating.

“The Raid 2” sends Rama undercover to prison, where he’s assigned to ingratiate himself with Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of a local crime lord. The plan works, and after the men are released, Rama goes to work for Uco’s dad, Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo).

Bangun has long co-existed with Goto (Kenichi Endo), who heads a Jakarta-based Japanese crime family. Things get ugly when certain people try to break the truce between the two factions. One of the agitators is Uco, whose actions put Rama in the middle of a gang war.

The plot allows for a broader range of locations, scenarios and, yes, fights than the first “Raid.” But the movie is also a playful self-indulgence for Evans, a devotee of violent Japanese cinema. (The director’s first short, made in his native Wales, was a samurai tale, complete with Japanese dialogue.)

Evans might intend for “The Raid 2” to be a solemn “Godfather”-like study of loyalty, ambition and betrayal, but he can’t resist absurd flourishes. In one scene, a dying man is chased outside, where his blood splashes vividly on white snow – a form of precipitation not seen in tropical Jakarta. There’s also a female enforcer who kills with a pair of hammers; she mocks the silent-killer archetype by using sign language.

Evans has lots of ideas, but the good ones are mostly visual. When a bat-wielding thug swings and connects, the camera spins as if it took the blow. That’s a great moment, but it – like everything in the movie that works – is just pure sensation.

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