The best way to review “Red 2” is simply to say that if you dug “Red” you’ll probably like the sequel. Once again Bruce Willis and a bunch of mostly aging actors play action roles that normally get assigned to Matt Damon or Tom Cruise who, come to think of it, are aging too. So why not?
Thus the killing squad of former CIA black op Frank Moses (Willis) reassembles for the follow-up, which means Helen Mirren’s sleek assassin Victoria (no last name), John Malkovich’s paranoid Marvin Boggs, Brian Cox’s Russian spy named Ivan (aren’t they all) and Mary-Louise Parker’s Sarah Ross, a telephone operator who got dragged into the first movie but is now firmly established as Frank’s main squeeze.
This reunion does not include Morgan Freeman who, remember, died in the first movie or Ernest Borgnine, who died for real at the age of 95. To make up for this loss, the producers have hired Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, David Thewlis and Byung Hun Lee to take up the slack.
Like “Red,” this film relies primarily on comic byplay among the old-timers (with more age jokes than in “The Sunshine Boys”) while stuntmen provide the wall-to-wall action of car chases through Paris and London, a helicopter crash and innumerable shoot-outs in various locales from Moscow to New Jersey.
There are even combat scenes in the Kremlin and Iranian Embassy in London. The latter provides the movie’s funniest line by far: “I want to defect to Iran.” You need to be there though to really appreciate the line.
The movie is harmless enough — except possibly to stunt performers — and one gets to enjoy the sight of talented actors playing cliches by either turning them on their heads or going over the top with the eccentricities.
The plot has something to do with a global quest to track down a nuclear bomb planted during the Cold War and pretty much forgotten until WikiLeaks divulges its existence.
Frank and the gang must battle crazed terrorists, ruthless assassins and, most insidious of all, government officials, all eager to get their hands on this doomsday weapon.
Dean Parisot, taking up the directorial reigns from the original’s Robert Schwentke, opts to keep any visual style or directorial flourishes to a minimum so as to focus front and center on his celebrated cast including three Oscar winners.
Willis is an old hand at action comedy, and even in those scenes where he appears to go through the motions those motions can produce a laugh or two. He certainly fits into this series better than “Die Hard,” which died long ago.
Hopkins has fun with a brainy scientist kept on ice for many years who rejoins the land of the living to wreck havoc on everyone. Zeta-Jones gives herself body and soul to the role of the Russian femme fatale who is “kryptonite” to Frank’s super agent man.
Thewlis has a hilarious bit as a misanthropic “seller of information” who can withstand any torture other than a sexual come-on. Byung Hun Lee is stuck though with the tiresome role of the Asian martial-arts assassin without being able to redeem it with humor.
The rest of the cast, meaning Mirren, Malkovich and to a lesser degree Cox, spend the movie giving relationship advice to Willis, in over his head for once in his life because of his love for the much younger woman. Parker in turn proves more resilient in the land of spooks and killers than her boyfriend realizes.
Mirren does get an opportunity to spoof her long-running portrayals of queens as long as they’re English and named Elizabeth. That alone is worth the price, as they say.
What else do you need to know? The thing runs a brisk 116 minutes — too long but you probably won’t notice — strains at times for its flippant attitude toward death and destruction (especially in the final moments) and lets enough special ops survive for a third film.
But that will be up to you.
Opens: July 19, 2013 (Summit Entertainment)
Production company: A di Bonaventura Pictures Production
Cast: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung Hun Lee, Brian Cox, David Thewlis, Neal McDonough
Director: Dean Parisot
Screenwriters: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber
Based on characters created by Warren Ellis, Cully Hamner
Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian
Executive producers: Jake Myers, David Ready
Director of photography: Enrique Chediak
Production designer: Jim Clay
Music: Alan Silvestri
Costume designer: Beatrix Aruna Pasztor
Editor: Don Zimmerman
PG-13 rating, 116 minutes