RED was a delightful romp wherein seasoned and deadly retired secret agents of several stripes taught a callow world the advantages of age and experience. In RED 2, the world has learned its lesson, and so, while the characters are still delightful, they really have nowhere to go that isnít a re-hash of every spy and spy-spoof of the last 50 years. Hence the sequel is a pale echo of its original, lacking the same deft, sometimes daft, buoyancy to be found in the fine art of one-upsmanship. Which is not to say that there are no charms to be found here. Rogue black ops operatives played by a team of devastatingly arch pros can cover a multitude of sins, just not all of them.
We pick of the story with retired Black Ops specialist Frank (Bruce Willis) happily playing suburban househusband to the love of his life, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), but thereís trouble in paradise. Sarah, having gotten a taste of the life of mystery, adventure, and danger, longs for more. Frank longs to keep her safe. And so the stand-off would have continued if not for Marvin (John Malkovich), Frankís fellow agent and demolitions aficionado, dangling the prospect of another mission in front of them quasi-happy couple. A leaked document linking the guys to a Cold War mission gone wrong has put them all, Sarah included, in danger. And so the game is on, with Sarah giddy with delight, Frank fretting while lethal, and Marvin being his adorably goofy self.
The plot is generous. Too generous. Taking the trio around the world and smack in to the path of an amiably ruthless un-retired Black Ops agent (Neal McDonough), a burbling mad scientist with attention deficit issues (Anthony Hopkins), an old flame of Frankís in the form of a Russian agent (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and, of course, the supremely elegant and unruffled Victoria (Helen Mirren). Alas, Victoria, who can reduce a corpse to its constituent elements while never mussing her hair or chiffon gown, has been hired by the Brits to assassinate Frank, Marvin, and Sarah, but only if the top hit-man in the world, Han (Byung hun-Lee), hired by the Americans, doesnít get to them first.
Humor, a breakneck pace, and plenty of bullets tearing very, very big holes in things keeps the film afloat for a good chunk of the time. But after yet another car chase, another less than scintillating plot twist, and another change of locale, a whiff of staleness creeps into the proceedings, and, horror of horrors, cutesiness. Fortunately, Byung injects a provocatively cool charisma to the formula, and there may be nothing cooler on the planet than Helen Mirren with two guns blazing, a look of slightly bored sang froid on her face, demanding that her wheel man show her something interesting while making a getaway.
RED 2 is overlong, wearing out its welcome long before it has worn out its convoluted plot. Not as good as the original, it does manage to avoid embarrassing itself completely, or sullying too much the memory of its predecessor. There will, no doubt, be a RED 3 at some point, and hereís hoping itís a more successful mission that this one.