Retired, Extremely Dangerous (RED) is the dubious dossier designation the CIA has assigned retired agent Frank Moses and his supposedly over-the-hill pals from the halcyon spy-vs.-spy days of the Cold War.
It’s the sly acronym that explains in a nutshell the premise of “Red,” the surprise comedy-espionage sleeper hit of 2010, drawn from a three-issue graphic novel by writer Warren Ellis and artist Cully Hamner. And it applies in spades again (only bigger, brasher and brassier) to the thrilling and funny “Red 2.” Old spies might lose a step or two with age, but as these tales show, they can still be witty, wily and lethal to the end.
As this story opens, Retired, Extremely Complacent (REC) seems a more fitting acronym to describe Bruce Willis’ laid-back Moses. After the enervating, high-body-count skullduggery of the first film, Frank has settled again into suburban domesticity with his former unwitting hostage-girlfriend Sarah (Mary Louise-Parker). Now, the most exciting thing they do is go for extended shopping trips to Costco.
But one day their kooky former spy cohort Marvin (John Malkovich) skulks over from the next aisle and delivers some dire news. It seems a top-secret document has been leaked linking Frank and him to a Cold War project called “Night Shade” and to a missing nuclear device.
Naturally, Frank is reluctant to believe the paranoid Marvin and to disturb his civilian bliss. But in short order, Frank and Sarah find an international cadre of cunning assassins on their trail – including Frank’s former English ally Victoria (Helen Mirren), his one-time Russian flame Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a particularly deadly Korean killer (Byung Hun Lee) with a mortal grudge against Frank.
Next thing we know, the old spies are jetting from London to Paris to Moscow, engaging in hurly-burly chases, dodging fusillades of bullets, juggling double- and triple-crosses and finally matching wits with a brainy, barking-mad terrorist named Bailey, who has been locked for decades in a mental institution, scribbling on the wall, listening to classical music and plotting world domination. He’s played by Anthony Hopkins, who delivers a deliciously devious performance with a tasty helping of fava beans and a nice Chianti (shiver-shiver).
Veteran series TV director Dean Parisot and screenwriting brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber are canny enough to know they have a budding franchise on their hands, and they up the ante here without tinkering too much with the fine chemistry of the formula.
“Red” works best as an ensemble escapade juggling high-octane stunts, breakneck pacing and darkly morbid humor, with Willis as the macho-sardonic ringmaster. Newcomers more than make up for the loss of Morgan Freeman from the first film. Along with Hopkins, Zeta-Jones contributes a hearty Natasha Fatale lustiness (re “Rocky and Bullwinkle”) to her Russian spy, and the breathtakingly acrobatic Byung Han Lee is a wonder to behold and an exhilarating sparring match for Willis.
With old hands Mirren, again essaying the elegantly murderous Victoria, and the hugely entertaining Malkovich, adding hilarious shades of lonely-hearts advice giver to the delusional Marvin, “Red 2” plays out as another scarlet Valentine to aging spooks. Old spies never die, they just headline blockbusters.
- Dennis King
Starring: Bruce Willis, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Catherine Zeta-Jones
(For pervasive action and violence, including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material)