“Red 2” begins with a cool comic book-style credits sequence, paying a short homage to its Warren Ellis-penned roots. Too short, in fact. Just as we’re starting to get into the warmly hued titles, we’re thrown headlong into the live-action, high-stakes world of retired government agents...shopping at Costco. The film has numerous issues, but the most distracting is the inconsistent bursts of stylized animations, buried between unimaginative shots and sequences. They serve as setting transitions, announcing our heroes’ arrival in Hong Kong and Paris, but they’re oddly skipped when the former spies land in London and Teterboro. Well, we understand the lack of fanfare for the New Jersey town, but London? “Red” helmer Robert Schwentke was apparently too busy directing “R.I.P.D.” to make the follow-up, so Dean Parisot makes an unremarkable return with his first feature since 2005’s “Fun with Dick and Jane.”
As we're reintroduced to the world of Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), the former black ops agent is trying to adjust to a normal life with beloved girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) where he gets excited about power washers and jumbo shrimp. His best friend Marvin (John Malkovich) tries to convince him to get back into the game with no success until an explosive event forces Frank and Sarah to go on the run. This is just the first of the film’s bombs, grenades, machine gun bullets, and weapons of mass destruction. Frank and Marvin have been framed for Operation Nightshade, a mission in the ‘70s that hid a powerful bomb in Moscow. Helen Mirren’s Victoria is back to help the cause, while Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a Russian agent who tries to drive an hourglass-shaped wedge between Sarah and Frank.
While Frank, Marvin and Sarah try to keep Nightshade from destroying the world’s biggest cities, Frank’s nemesis Han (“I Saw the Devil” actor Lee Byung-hun) hunts him across the world, intent on killing him slowly and painfully for a combo for money and revenge. Meanwhile, cartoonishly evil government operative Jack Horton (Neil McDonough) is on Frank’s tail as well because...well, because we’re told he wants Frank captured or dead. Ideally the latter.
Oddly, Willis is the weakest link here, playing the straight man to Malkovich’s enjoyably paranoid Marvin, but he just seems bored. Boredom is not what we want to see in an actor whose character gets to choose between Mary-Louise Parker and Catherine Zeta-Jones. As a man from Frank’s CIA past, Anthony Hopkins gets to run a wide range of emotions that fits his level of talent (even if the material doesn’t, but at least it’s better than “The Rite”). As the youngest member of the cast, we liked what Lee brought to the table (in addition to his abs) in terms of both humor and physical menace. On the other hand, the normally on-point McDonough seems half a second behind in his delivery of his cheesy, menacing lines. However, if we’re saddled with a “Red 3,” we just want it to focus on Mirren’s Victoria and her interaction with Russian lover Ivan (Brian Cox). There’s great, goofy chemistry between the two, and far too few minutes of screen time with the pair.
While we applaud the minds behind “Red” for making a film for adults in a sea of movies for kids and teenage boys, they didn’t actually make a good film for adults. It will satisfy the core audience who loved the first film, but there are no surprises here, other than the shock of letting “Whiteout” and “Battleship” screenwriters Jon and Erich Hober pen another film. Each moment is predictable, with the talented cast eking out as much enjoyment for the audience as they can. Overall, this is an action-comedy that should be as full of laughs as it is explosions (So. Many. Explosions.), but there’s little joy other than letting Mirren be (super) sexy and Malkovich deliver a few good lines. [C+]