Befitting a movie about aging, retired government assassins, Red 2 is a faded incarnation of its former self.
Red was the 2010 action movie that introduced us to Frank Moses, a super-capable black-ops agent in retirement, poignantly falling in love with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the woman who handled his social security cheques before all espionage hell broke loose.
Frank once again is obliged to "get the band back together" when he and his unstable confederate Marvin (John Malkovich) are targeted by a ruthless government assassin (Neal McDonough) intent on tracking an insidious portable weapon of mass destruction known as Nightshade.
The case takes them all over the globe -- Paris, London, Moscow -- a glamorous treat for Sarah, who is not thrilled with Frank's attempts to live a normal middle-class life of backyard barbecues and Costco runs.
But Sarah is obliged to rethink the sexy international spy game when Frank crosses paths with Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a Russian vamp who shares a lurid history with Frank. Much more palatable (to both Sarah and the movie audience) is Victoria (Helen Mirren), a regal assassin possessing the beauty of a mature English rose with thorns that take the form of powerful automatic weapons.
It turns out everyone is searching for Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), the dotty inventor of the Nightshade device who has been rendered even crazier by decades spent in government captivity.
Frank springs Bailey and the hunt intensifies, with South Korean contract killer Han (Byung Hun Lee) especially eager to inflict damage upon Frank after suffering a past betrayal.
Director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) does a reasonable job of combining outsized action with sardonic humour, carrying over the running gags from the first film. (Yes, Marvin is paranoid, but his conspiracy claims are invariably correct.)
Yet the movie feels off. Some of this may have to do with Willis's recent tendency to squander his action-movie cred on anything that comes his way. (The Expendables? G.I. Joe?!) Part of it has to do with the blas© approach to violence, which reaches especially disturbing levels given the movie's drive to shatter the homicidal innocence of Parker's Sarah.
The first Red seemed to come from nowhere and was all the more enjoyable for its depiction of aging spies still on top of their game.
The element of surprise is gone from the sequel, and more than anything, that makes Red 2 a shade off.