I couldn’t say whether 2010’s Red, based loosely on a mid-Nineties title from DC Comics, was as bone-crunchingly and brain-numbingly assaultive as its follow-up; I saw the first film sanitized and buffered by commercial breaks on TNT. It played like the kind of action-comedy my parents could get behind – a geezer Bourne movie meets Ocean’s 5 – or 6, maybe 4: It’s hard to keep the count straight, as the series’ clique of retired assassins expands and contracts depending on which way the international spy network winds are blowing and who feels like double-crossing or faking a death on that particular day. This shoot-’em-up sequel retains the happily larky/barky chemistry of the first, but is the boomer generation – you know, the senior set that’s about the same age as Red 2’s leads – really clamoring for so many bullets to the head and snapped necks? Just because there’s barely a drop of blood here doesn’t mean Red 2 isn’t gruesome.
And needlessly so, because the actors’ rapport continues to be its winningest attribute. Willis – pushing 60 and still cueball-king of the franchises (he’s figured in five since 2010) – returns as former CIA black-ops agent Frank Moses, trying to go straight but forever being pulled back into the game by nefarious forces. This time Frank and his old pal Marvin (a marvelously twitchy, mugging Malkovich) have been linked – erroneously, in a doctored WikiLeaks document – to a weapon of mass destruction that went missing in the Eighties; to clear their names, they must go on a wild goose chase (and often slaughter) throughout Europe. Returning players include Frank’s inamorata, Sarah (Parker, still bizarrely characterized and costumed like a ditzy Catholic schoolgirl), and steely/sexy MI6 agent Victoria (Mirren), while Zeta-Jones, Hopkins, and Lee hop on the merry-go-round as, respectively, a Russian agent, a mad scientist, and a South Korean contract killer. It’s all supremely silly stuff, and amusingly so, as long as you don’t stop to think about all those blameless officers and agents cut down in the line of mindless entertainment.