Photo by Frank Masi - © Summit Entertainment

I yearn for a summer movie season without sequels. I know, call me a dreamer, but watching movies like Red 2 is positively dispiriting. I didn’t think the 2010 adaptation of DC’s graphic novel was all that great, but it did have novelty value in its concept and especially its casting, with “mature” stars like Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and Morgan Freeman playing retired secret agents who still have a lot of juice.

Now comes Red 2, minus the estimable Mr. Freeman, and the surprise element is gone. We already know the principal players and the overall idea. This time the focus is on Willis trying to shield his naïve Midwestern sweetie (Mary-Louise Parker) from danger—while she wants to be in on the excitement. We also meet several new characters: a lethal killing machine played by Korean star Byung-hun Lee, a slinky Russian agent played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, and a British scientist played by Anthony Hopkins who created a fearsome nuclear weapon that’s the subject of the current storyline.

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Photo by Frank Masi - © 2013 Summit Entertainment

It’s pleasant enough to watch these actors at work, but director Dean Parisot allows Malkovich and Mirren to mug shamelessly—perhaps to compensate for a lack of witty or inventive dialogue. Willis is solid, as usual, but it’s Parker (and, later in the proceedings, Hopkins) who seem to actually be having fun, which is mildly contagious.

Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber devised the screenplay, as they did three years ago for Red, which became something of a sleeper success. There’s no shortage of action in this follow-up, with fights, chases, bullets flying, glass shattering, and things blowing up. But I felt the movie was trying too hard, and I simply lost interest.