Starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich & Helen Mirren, Directed by Dean Parisot
PG-13, 116 min.
A sequel to the surprise 2010 hit, this comedy-espionage romp reunites the original cast of Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren as a trio of elite CIA assassins forced once again out of retirement to blast the rust off their not-quite-over-the-hill stuff.
As with the first movie, which was also based on the comic-book series of the same name, much of the fun comes from the basic setup of seeing stars well into AARP range rip-roaring away in slam-bang action-y stuff typically done by actors with fewer miles on their odometers.
This time around, Willis’ younger doe-eyed girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker) gets a much bigger role, Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a sultry Soviet secret agent, and Anthony Hopkins shows up midway through the movie as a British brainiac with ties to a deadly, decades-old Cold War secret.
The movie’s title is an abbreviation derived from the special-ops designation given to Willis’ character, Frank Moses: “Retired, Extremely Dangerous.”
Willis plays his part in the cool, collected “Die Hard” mode that he’s been keeping in handy quick-release storage since the ’80s. As his partner, Marvin, Malkovich is a colorful, paranoid kook. Mirren, an Oscar-winning actress, seems to relish her role as a regal British spy with a license to kill; the scene where she dispenses relationship advice to Frank over the phone while tidily pouring acid on a recently dispatched body in her bathtub is a dark-chuckle hoot.
But for all the star power of the cast, there’s something about the performances that seem a bit weary and dreary, especially when compared to the sizzle of Byung-hun Lee, the electrifying young South Korean star who plays the hit man assigned to hunt Moses down, or the ice-cold, muscular menace conveyed by Neal McDonough as the corrupt C.I.A. agent also tracking Moses and his crew as they skip and quip their way through London, Paris and Moscow.
Director Dean Parisot, who hasn’t left many tracks on the big screen as he’s been steering TV episodes of “Justified,” “The Good Wife,” “Modern Family” and “Monk,” jams all the pieces of this big, bang-bang jigsaw puzzle together, but not everything quite fits. Some of the pacing doesn’t work, jokes fall flat, and sometimes scenes seem so jarringly out of place from what just happened seconds before that I’m still wondering if the filmmakers believed that simply seeing John Malkovich in boots, a stupid hat and shorts could somehow swipe your short-term memory clean of things you’d just seen minutes ago.
The original “Red” brought in nearly $200 million at the international box office, so there will probably be a lot of folks who’ll line up again to see Willis and Co. camp it up, shoot it up, and blow it up. But there are likely others who’ll find all the blasting, booming and joking about terrorism, bombs, information leaks and torture hitting a little too uncomfortably close to home.
But if “Red 2” starts feeling too real, you can remind yourself how much of a ridiculous flight of fancy it really is. This is a movie, after all, that came from a comic book, the collective age of its main stars is over 300, and no one (not even the esteemed Helen Mirren) can shoot with accuracy from pistols in both hands, out of the open windows of a spinning car, even if it IS spinning in super slo-mo.