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"RED 2"
(2013) (Bruce Willis, John Malkovich) (PG-13)

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Action/Comedy: While trying to lead a normal domestic life with his girlfriend, a former CIA agent is framed for being involved with a long-lost nuke that was smuggled into Russia, and must use his various skills and associates to avoid assassins, clear his name, and stop the bad guys before it's too late.
Frank Moses (BRUCE WILLIS) is a former CIA operative who's been categorized as "RED" (Retired and Extremely Dangerous) by the government. Yet, he's simply trying to lead a normal domestic life with his girlfriend, Sarah Ross (MARY-LOUISE PARKER), a former call center operator who longs for the danger and excitement of his former line of work. She gets the chance to experiment with that when Frank's best friend and fellow operative, Marvin Boggs (JOHN MALKOVICH), informs him that they've been framed regarding an old Cold War secret government operation called Nightshade. That involved sneaking a small nuclear device into Russia, and now that word has gotten out about it, Pentagon special agent Jack Horton (NEAL McDONOUGH) wants Frank captured or killed.

The former black ops agent has other opinions about that, however, and sets off with Sarah and Marvin on a globe-trotting excursion where they attempt to find out who's behind this. That's all while avoiding Frank's former protégé turned vindictive assassin Han Cho Bai (BYUNG-HUN LEE) as well as fellow assassin Victoria (HELEN MIRREN) who's been assigned by her MI6 superiors to kill Frank when not cavorting with her lover, Ivan Simanov (BRIAN COX).

Along the way, they run into Frank's ex-girlfriend, Katja (CATHERINE ZETA-JONES), a Russian counter-intelligence agent, all while trying to get info out of The Frog (DAVID THEWLIS) that will help them find Edward Bailey (ANTHONY HOPKINS), the long-missing and believed to be dead physicist who created the bomb. With the latter's intentions unclear, Frank and his team race to stop the bomb from being sold or, worse yet, detonated.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
According to the 2010 Census, there were more than 40 million people 65 and older living in the U.S. AARP states that for the next 16 years or so, around 8,000 people a day will join those ranks. And yet Hollywood and most of the entertainment industry, for the most part, ignores the demographic despite them having the time and money to consume movies, music and more. Sure, there are art house films, foreign flicks and the occasional mainstream studio pic that focuses on that age group. Nonetheless, most still spend inordinate amounts of time and money courting much younger viewers in the old and now extremely out of date belief of that's who counts.

Thus, it really isn't a surprise that when such mainstream flicks do come along, the older viewers tend to frequent such films, perhaps not en masse, but at least to the surprise of some Hollywood types. Case in point was 2010's "Red," a comedy-action film where the main stars -- Bruce Willis (age 55 at the time), John Malkovich (56), Helen Mirren (64) and Morgan Freeman (73) -- were of the age where inclusion in AARP was no longer a case of "I'm still too young for that." Heck, even the young sidekick, Mary-Louise Parker, was 45 at the time of the film's release.

Accordingly, it wasn't a surprise that older viewers led the charge in helping the pic gross north of $90 million in the U.S. Likewise, few will likely be shocked that it's now spawned a sequel, the imaginatively titled "Red 2." And while Freeman isn't back (due to a particular plot development the first time around), the rest of the returning cast is joined by another veteran actor, Anthony Hopkins (72), who keeps that age average above the comfort level of many a younger studio exec.

The first film obviously got the basic plot thrust out of the way, courtesy of scribes Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber who adapted the limited series comic book. Retired yet extremely dangerous (hence the title) government operatives ended up pulled back into action and proved they still have what it takes despite living under the cover of "normal" domesticity. And director Robert Schwentke did a decent job of balancing the action and comedy as his characters traversed the country to get the job done.

New helmer Dean Parisot and new screenwriters Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber are obviously hoping to capture the same magic again in this sequel. To be honest, I don't recall much about the earlier flick beyond the cast, what with having found the experience mediocre at best (with a few decent moments scattered about). Thus, I wasn't chomping at the bit for this follow-up, especially knowing it would do and be what most sequels aim for -- more of the same.

And that's exactly what we get, although this time the travels take the group on a globetrotting adventure that feels like second-rate Bond. That's all related to the team trying to find a long-missing nuke that Hopkins' character devised back in the height of the Cold War, all while trying to avoid assassins (including Byung-hun Lee who at least brings some excitement to the fold with his martial arts prowess) and stereotypical government villains (namely one baddie played by Neal McDonough).

There's nothing terribly remarkable about the basic storyline, and with the novelty factor having been used up the first time around, the new filmmakers try to squeeze out as much personality and chemistry from the returning characters and those who inhabit them. All of which means if you enjoyed how they behaved in the original, you'll likely feel the same way here.

And much of that focuses on Willis' character simply wanting a normal life, all while his girlfriend (Parker) longs for the excitement of the spy world as mixed with romance. She gets the former, but the latter is threatened by the introduction of Frank's ex (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a Russian counter-intelligence agent noted as being his kryptonite. Not surprisingly, she immediately plays him like an awkward school boy with a crush on a high school cheerleader. That is, if both were trained government ops with high body counts between them.

While Willis has proved he has the acting chops for doing comedy (be that as little touches in action films such as "Die Hard" or with doses of charm and snark with his old TV show "Moonlighting"), it sort of feels like he's going through the motions here rather than being fully engaged and up for the challenge. On the other hand, Parker and, natch, Malkovich, seem to be having fun and totally with the game plan.

For action fans, there's plenty of mayhem in terms of chases, gunplay, hand-to-hand fights and so on (once again pushing the boundaries of the old PG-13 rating). Other than the scenes featuring Lee in full high octane mode, however, much of it felt too slapdash for my liking. Rather than setting up and executing such scenes with care, Parisot simply dumps the action on the screen and then moves on. All of which leaves much of it feeling, well, rather bland.

Granted, if you enjoyed watching the first film depicting the middle-aged to senior set operating in such environs, and found the repertoire between the characters enjoyable, you might have the same reaction with this offering. For yours truly, it's great seeing older talent assembled to entertain viewers. I just wish it was done in a better package and fashion. Pretty much the same thing again but without the novelty factor the first film used to its advantage, "Red 2" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 16, 2013 / Posted July 19, 2013

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