* (out of four)
The big idea behind 2010’s remarkably dull “Red” and its miserable sequel is that the previously retired main characters are older than the usual action heroes. Worth noting, though: All of these former intelligence operatives still move around and work competently as if no time has passed, and one of them is played by Bruce Willis, who’s still running and kicking ass in terrible “Die Hard” sequels.
So the supposed novelty of the concept doesn’t really work, does it?
Neither does anything else in “Red 2”—adapted from a graphic novel whose title is an acronym for “Retired and Extremely Dangerous”—which would have been no more difficult to endure if I were sitting on nails. The plot involves a search for a nuclear weapon lost decades ago, but that's just a half-hearted excuse to let Frank Moses (Willis), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) fire a lot of bullets and treat death and killing like a big joke. Han (Byng-hun Lee), a Korean assassin identified as the world's best contract killer twice in three minutes in case theatergoers fall asleep, shoots up a street and shouts, “You dead yet, Moses?” “Not yet!” Frank shouts back. Really funny stuff, clearly.
In scene after scene, Frank's civilian girlfriend Sarah (a painfully annoying Mary-Louise Parker) exists primarily to ask questions like, “What is this place?,” “Why does Han hate you so much?” and “Should you eat that?,” followed by some explanation by Marvin and a mumbled quip from Frank. Writers Jon and Erich Hoeber (who are already at work on “Red 3,” hooray) think it's hilarious for someone to fire a gun in a club or for Frank and his old squeeze Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to laugh about trying to kill each other. Just because the makers of a film constantly insist that the material on screen is meant to be fun doesn't mean they're right. It's absolutely possible to make a violent movie that is entertaining, but the tone of “Red 2” is all wrong, aiming for “light romp” and achieving, “boring and offensive.”
Marvin actually says, “What happens in the Kremlin stays in the Kremlin,” the site of an action scene that's about 100 times worse than the one we saw in “Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol.” He also fakes his own death and then goes back to work immediately, which seems like a waste of effort. Another arguable waste of effort is complaining about these inevitable sequels, considering July already brought “Despicable Me 2” and “Grown Ups 2,” with “The Smurfs 2” still to come. Pass the ibuprofen.
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