Those retired but still extremely dangerous CIA operatives return in Red 2, older, wielding heavier artillery, and hopscotching around the world like secret agents half their age. Without the AARP angle, this would be just another bullet-ridden action flick more concerned with loudness than logic. Not all of us have hearing aids to conveniently turn down.
The din of gunfire — especially aimed at him — is why Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is enjoying retirement, memorizing the layout at Costco to shop for household items he was always too busy killing people to purchase. Frank is settled down with his much younger former hostage Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), who's uneasy with domestic idleness after the excitement of part one. She wants Frank to get out of the house, maybe kill somebody.
A return to action is proposed by Marvin Boggs, played hotwired by John Malkovich, who's still the most entertaining part of this franchise. Marvin's raving about assassins on their tails sounds like his typical LSD-stoked paranoia until his vehicle blows up. After his funeral, Frank is taken into custody by government goons, fights his way out in ballistic fashion, and Sarah gets that gung-ho feeling again.
Leaked documents suggest Frank and Marvin know the whereabouts of a weapon of mass destruction misplaced near the end of the Cold War, which will heat up again if it detonates. The bomb is just an alibi for director Dean Parisot to stage close calls and slick entrances for an impressive number of mature, celebrated actors taking a break from classier material.
In the first movie those performers smartly played off their reputations; you would never expect to see Helen Mirren firing automatic weapons, so here she is, doing just that. Red 2 turns sterling reputations into self-aware punchlines: Mirren's killer character poses as a lunatic claiming to be the queen of England — a role she has played straight several times — to infiltrate an asylum. Anthony Hopkins, new to the franchise, is introduced in a prison cell, in stir-crazy shades of Hannibal Lecter. At 53, Catherine Zeta-Jones is nearly too young for this stuff.
Red 2 does contain several fun moments, usually involving Malkovich and South Korean action star Byung-hun Lee as an assassin so deadly he commits murder by origami. Parker's character is the lone holdover from part one who changed, and her fumbling attempts to be a polished super spy are amusing. Yet little about Red 2's plot makes sense for long, with double crosses piling up from a necessity to locate an ending, and not a minute too soon.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.