‘Red 2′ as shockingly pretty good as the first

Mary-Louise Parker, Bruce Willis and John Malkovich stroll from an explosion in loud clothes in "RED 2." Credit: Summit Entertainment LLC
Mary-Louise Parker, Bruce Willis and John Malkovich stroll away from an explosion in loud clothes in “Red 2.”
Credit: Summit Entertainment LLC

‘Red 2′
Director: Dean Parisot
Stars: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

The first “Red” was the kind of movie that was almost as good as one would irrationally hope. Slight but jolly, it took a pile of near-geriatric non-action stars — notably John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman — and put big guns in their hands. It’s a simple formula, but it works, especially with a relaxed Bruce Willis as their ringleader, whose inclusion played as tacit omission that perhaps the very similar “The Whole Nine Yards” was as fallow as it seemed.

The only significant drawback was that it had origin story duties. It had to waste time getting its cast of ex-assassin olds together in the first place. “Red 2” has no such burden. Willis’ Frank Moses quickly drops his bizarre suburban idyll, much to the joy of civilian girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who finds herself weirdly bored by a man’s man so in love with Costco. Unkempt freak Marvin (Malkovich) dies in the opening, but is alive again within five minutes — a goofy development that sets the tone for the mildly inventive silliness that follows.

The MacGuffin this time involves a big, deadly bomb that has been wrongly blamed on Frank and company. Lost in America last time, the team globetrots to clear their name and find the real perp. Newbies include a fearsome killer-for-hire (South Korean megastar Lee Byung-hun), a former flame of Frank’s with a disappearing-reappearing Russian accent (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Anthony Hopkins as a brilliant scientist locked away in a tower cell who may be (spoiler: is) less doddering than he lets on.

The tone is a little more aligned with the cast, too. The director this time is Dean Parisot, who once upon a time helmed the delightful “Star Trek” twist “Galaxy Quest.” The script for “Red 2” is far less clever than that: It’s a Bond ripoff with twists no one cares about, all of it merely a backdrop for rampant silliness and incongruous (albeit PG-13) violence. It delivers on both. David Thewlis briefly swings by as a gun-toting epicure named “The Frog,” who moans “Why is it tyrants never appreciate Burgundy?” The sequel affords even more iterations of Helen Mirren rocking Vin Diesel moves, once while playfully curling her toes.

As with the first, the film delivers slightly better than expected while still being mildly disappointing. One of the better jokes is there’s a deep, dense history for these characters — countless crazy adventures that could spawn endless prequels. The film could more playfully allude to these escapades, or failing that go even more OTT with the cartoonish violence. Only giving Malkovich, who stole the first, a passable amount to do is endemic of this sequel’s mild problems.


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