In 2007, moviegoing audiences proved that A) they would still go see any Bruce Willis action movie (“Live Free or Die Hard”), B) they enjoyed comedies centered around old guys (“The Bucket List”) and C) they would watch anything based on a comic book (“Ghost Rider”). Cut ahead three years later, when the Retired-Extremely-Dangerous espionage antics of “RED” leapt off the page and onto silver screens to become a sleeper hit. Skip ahead another three years, and here we have it: “RED 2.”
The gang’s all back together, sort of. Morgan Freeman’s rascally character is still deader than disco; sadly, Ernest Borgnine has followed suit. Speaking of suits, Karl Urban is nowhere to be found, and most distinctly, director Robert Schwentke has been replaced. He’s been too busy helming this weekend’s other comic adaptation starring Mary-Louise Parker (“R.I.P.D.”) to handle this one, but in lieu of a continuous comic-book flair being brought to the action, Dean Parisot (“Fun with Dick and Jane,” the much better “Galaxy Quest”) opts for literally hand-drawn transitions and tons of sloppy coverage punctuated by the occasional slo-mo shot.
I’m getting ahead of myself, I suppose. There’s still Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), retired CIA man and loving boyfriend to Sarah (Parker), a dolt from the Midwest who’s always eager to see some action. There’s still Marvin (John Malkovich), a basket case who knows that he and Frank have been falsely tied to a Cold War-era op by the name of “Nightshade,” and Victoria (Helen Mirren), their old MI6 cohort who has agreed to take them out. Lastly, there’s still Ivan (Brian Cox), a Russian contact of fleeting importance who continues to carry a torch for dear Victoria.
Forced to clear their names across the globe rather than just the States, the gang flies to Paris, where they hunt down a source named “The Frog” (David Thewlis) and bump into Russian counterintelligence operative -- and Frank’s old flame -- Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones). In London, original “Nightshade” architect Dr. Bailey (Anthony Hopkins, Mirren’s “Hitchcock” co-star of late) is sprung from an asylum, and all the way to Moscow, Frank and friends are pursued by two additional assassins: Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) and Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee).
Sound busy? It is, but don’t worry -- the best agents in the world will still need to spell everything out twice over throughout their mission (but they shop at Costco and eat Papa John’s pizza, so they’re just like us!). Sound funny? It was, when a spy’s stale love life and intertwining career concerns was the premise for “True Lies” nearly two decades ago. Sound exciting? If watching countless lackeys get gunned down with nary a splatter of blood is your cup of tea, sure, although Lee putting his martial-arts skills to good use in a cop-filled convenience store is admittedly a highlight.
The novelty of the first film was that the old guys (and lady) could stick it to the youngsters, but even that feels old hat now. Willis stepping cooly out of a spinning car has now become Willis stepping cooly into the driver’s seat of another moving vehicle. Every double-cross, every ticking clock, every Malkovich mumble and bug-eyed Parker reaction shot is familiar in the worst ways; what was once engagingly silly is now much closer to insultingly dumb. “RED 2” is meant to be minimally memorable. It’s made for catching at a matinee, and then picking up at Redbox three months later when you honestly can’t tell if you’ve seen it already, then throwing onto Netflix while folding laundry or entertaining the in-laws. It’s the kind of movie you’d then find at Costco, stacked between the other Bruce Willis one and that thing with Tom Cruise, waiting for some bald lunatic to come and save you from your own mundane existence.
SCORE: 5.4 / 10