Retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device.
A very safe sequel bet with a cast of friendly, recognizable, and bankable stars, RED 2 is a breezy romp of global espionage and superhero superspies where the wealth of violence is played for laughs and the sly grins stay firmly planted on the faces of everyone involved. As fans of 2010's RED will fondly remember, the hero characters are from the AARP generation, which is also what drives the primary conceptual joke and defines the title acronym: Retired, Extremely Dangerous. In round two, former secret agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is drawn out of retirement (again) by his former cohort Marvin (John Malkovich, acting Malkovich-crazy and loving it) to service a plot that involves a Cold War-era nuclear bomb hidden in Russia and the international effort to retrieve it. Frank is now romantically partnered with RED's sweet Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker, also a comic delight), who wants to follow him into the fray and turns out to be pretty good at the dangerous game of spycraft. Also returning from not really being retired are the icy MI-6 assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren) and the lusty Russian spy chief Ivan (Brian Cox). Their priceless scene together captures a bucolic picnic where automatic weapons and silk stockings are the main course. New to this edition is Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Ivan's best operative and a former flame of Frank, and Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee), a Korean hit man on Frank's list partly because he's been ordered to kill him, but mostly because he's mad that Frank stole his private jet. Everyone's motives are purposely muddled, but they all put aside personal grudges and professional kill orders to join forces against the doomsday device. It was created and hidden by a batty professor who's been locked away in a London psychiatric hospital for almost 40 years. Fortunately this caricature is played by Anthony Hopkins, who brings all the acting tics and crazy-old-British-guy mannerisms he can as both hero and villain. The mechanics of story don't much matter when the purpose is zingy one-liners and the comic timing is spot on. There's a ton of bloodless violence--most of which is also played for laughs--and a menacing American agent played by Neal McDonough who seems to be the only humorless one in the whole bunch. He's also the only truly scary one, which does not bode well for his character. All the leads are given their own scene-stealing moments, with each playing according to their strengths (and probably for a nice "what the heck?" paycheck). The physical and verbal interplay among them cascades trippingly off the tongue in snappy dialogue and bits of business that seem effortless for these pros. Helen Mirren wears diamonds and fur while wielding a grenade launcher; John Malkovich makes the most lovable psychopath ever; Anthony Hopkins is both befuddled and conniving; and Bruce Willis makes violent screwball comedy look easy, especially with the impeccable help of Mary-Louise Parker. The RED franchise is a nice crossover success for Hollywood, with a built-in audience of the over-50 set, and the core youth demographic happy to watch grandma- and grandpa-types blow up and shoot things to their hearts' content. --Ted Fry