Mary-Louise Parker, Bruce Willis and John Malkovich are up to spy hijinks again as they try to stay alive long enough to scuttle a superweapon in 'Red 2.' (Summit Entertainment)
Bruce Willis got the band back together three years ago in the entertaining spy comedy “Red,” which of course lit the flame for an inevitable sequel.
But when it comes to movie sequels, reuniting the band more than once can quickly turn rote and tiresome — and this premise, about retired but still extremely dangerous spies — would seem to have quite a short half-life.
Fortunately, “Red 2” is the rare exception that adds just enough new spices to postpone its sell-by date. For now.
This doesn’t mean it makes sense; it’s the kind of flick that tries to cover its endless plot absurdities with fast pace and snappy patter. That it succeeds is a testament to its heavyweight cast of seasoned pros who can dazzle without breaking a sweat.
And really, is it even possible to tire of seeing Dame Helen Mirren, regal British legend of stage and screen, clad in military camouflage and adroitly wielding a heavy-duty sniper rifle?
Willis, whose strength has always been action comedies, returns as retired CIA agent Frank Moses, now quietly living the suburban dream, blissing out at Costco with his love Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), whose life he saved umpty times in “Red.”
Then up pops Frank’s paranoid pal Marvin Boggs (the great John Malkovich), who has only 49 cards in his deck after a decade of being unwittingly dosed with large quantities of LSD by his own government.
Marvin reveals that an old mission has come back to haunt them: Project Nightshade, the planting of an advanced weapon of mass destruction inside the Kremlin during the Cold War.
Frank wants no part of it; all he wants is to keep Sarah safe. But Sarah, quite the adrenaline junkie, is jazzed for another thrill ride in Spook World.
“Things were getting a little stale,” she tells him.
“Yeah, Frank, you haven’t killed anyone in months,” Marvin helpfully chimes in.
And when the government goons inevitably come calling with heavy ordnance in hand, the game begins.
Like all spy movies, this one is genetically hardwired to zip all over the place, from London to Paris to Moscow to Teterboro, N.J. (Say what, now?)
The story eventually pulls in a mix of old and new characters, including Mirren’s MI6 operative, Victoria; her Russian paramour Ivan (Brian Cox); new player Han (Byung-hun Lee), “the deadliest contract killer in the world,” and Neal McDonough as a scuzzy U.S. military intel goon.
Catherine Zeta-Jones also brings the sultry as Katja, a Russian spy with whom Frank once had a fling, sparking domestic discord between him and Sarah.
And if that’s not enough, there’s Anthony Hopkins as the brilliant scientist who created Nightshade and has been locked away for 32 years by MI6 to keep its existence under wraps.
The script is loaded with funny lines delivered with tongue firmly in cheek.
“You betrayed me, set me up, you tried to kill me, I tried to kill you,” Frank sputters to Katja.
“Ah, good times,” she murmurs.
Everyone hits their marks with aplomb, but the ace is Malkovich, who prior to this franchise never struck me as much of a comic actor. He clearly loves this role, and his performance is priceless.
But there’s one moment in particular that perfectly captures the vibe of this entire deal. It comes when the gang is chasing a Frenchman named, uh, The Frog (David Thewlis), who may know something about Nightshade.
Frank is chasing The Frog on foot when his quarry snatches a motorbike and tries for a getaway, just as Katja comes screaming around the corner in a gleaming Porsche Carrera.
The action shifts into slow-mo as Katja spins the car into a full-tilt drift, throws open the driver’s door and slides to the passenger seat in one fluid motion. With the car never slowing, Frank leaps behind the wheel as the action resumes normal speed and they roar off after The Frog.
If you think that’s a pretty cool trick, you are in the cross hairs of the target demographic for “Red 2.”
Rated PG-13 for violence, some language and drug references.