Red 2 retired agents of Red return with new co-stars Catherine Zeta-Jones, who had apparently stolen Mary-Louise Parker’s spray-tan; Anthony Hopkins, looking as jubilantly psychotic as ever and Byung-hun Lee. The original director has moved on to weirder pastures and helms this month’s other comic book based movie competition, R.I.P.D.

The original was received well for its dry, quirky humor which delivered moderately this time around, having given up screen time for more character introductions and much more action.

Red 2 opens with Frank and Sarah in a bulk-buy store symbolic of their growing-stale relationship. Frank (Willis) is in more danger of death by cardiac arrest than the former operative’s not-too-secret life might have had in store for him. Since their explosive introduction, the romance has quieted down too much for Sarah (Parker). She has romanticized ideas of the spy life and is ecstatic when Marvin shows up on Costco’s isle 5 behind the Tupperware with another life-threatening, top-secret mission. Marvin tries desperately to appeal to the old Frank, telling him someone’s put the word out they were involved with Operation Night Shade. The new Frank is as resistant to Marvin and going back to the old days (again) as Depends are to incontinence, but much to
Frank’s chagrin, Sarah is instantly absorbed.

Despite Marvin’s earnest warnings, it takes a car-bomb detonation, fake funeral with real Marvin corpse and a run in with ice-in-his-veins-and-loving-it keeper of government secrets, Jack Horton (McDonough) to get Frank back in the game. After his MacGyver-like escape from Horton and his trigger-happy hooligans, the hunt is on for whomever brought the heat on the retired agent who would rather be “playing house”, as Marvin called it, than putting the love of his life in the cross-hairs of desperate government entities and a personal history from Russia with love. Frank goes against Marvin’s warnings once again and gets a little too close to an old flame, Katja (Zeta-Jones), who could be playing Frank “like a banjo in a hoedown.”

Frank turns to Katja because Han (Lee), the world’s top assassin, has an unsettled score with Frank and now the government contract to give him the excuse he’s been looking for to settle it. Marvin, ironically the voice of wisdom in the group, decides to clear the air with Britain’s best, Victoria (Mirren) after she calls Frank to inform him that he’d better “enjoy life while he can.” Marvin’s choice puts them on the wrong side of a sniper rifle.

It’s something like The Blues Brothers, who had the cops, the neo-Nazis and a redneck band after them, only in Red 2 it’s: government assassins, government assassins and government assassins. Operation Night Shade is in effect.

“Night Shade” is an undetectable, portable bomb that’s being sought after by bad men, and the only one who can help Frank and his crotchety cronies get to it first is someone thought to have been dead from the days when Frank still had hair. The movie really gets interesting when it introduces Bailey (Hopkins).

Bailey’s been locked in a room for 32 years with nothing to keep him company but some vinyl records, the chicken scratch on the walls and a slew of imaginary friends. Even so, he’s held on to his genius and kept his courteous conduct. Given time to drink in some fresh air and purge out the drugs to which his invisible chums owe their existence, the sporting old fellow leads the gang directly to the Nightshade, where they find a nicely played plot twist.

Hopkins steals the show the moment he’s on screen, and the movie needs him to. The plot stretches between too many personally involved parties, and the movie relies a little too heavily on action to pick up the pace when the one-liners and sight gags would have done the job equally as well as the first. At that, it suffered from too many superstars and not enough investment in its common thread, the relationship between Frank and Sarah.

It’s too bad the sequel didn’t take its own advice and stick to the old ways of comedy a bit more. It was too violent for a follow up to the movie that employed action to punctuate comedy, or as a vehicle for showing how the old farts out-smart their younger, more ambitious counterparts. Further hurting Red 2 is the hype delivered by a movie boasting so much star power. Hopkins was more than enough to add to the cast and now the inevitable third installment will be doomed to even more of over-the-top.

Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Rated PG-13 for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material


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