They bicker, emotionally blackmail each other, kiss and make up. Because they have history.
But Frank (Bruce Willis) and Marvin (John Malkovich) aren't the "real" couple at the heart of RED 2, the action comedy sequel about retired government assassins. They're just part of a love triangle, one that Mary-Louise Parker completes. Her character, Sarah, might be Frank's dizzy but decreasingly naive lady love, but Marvin is the one who gullibly fills her in on this bloody if exciting life they've led and somehow continue to lead. He's also the one who gives her guns.
Frank is incredulous. But as the bullets fly and the plot thickens, mild-mannered Sarah gets into the spirit of things entirely too quickly.
"Let's face it, Columbo," she purrs at him. "Things were getting a little stale."
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The joy of RED was seeing a cast packed with Oscar winners (Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Richard Dreyfuss, Ernest Borgnine) and very good actors (Malkovich, Parker, Brian Cox and Karl Urban) flesh out and class up a Bruce Willis action film. "Codgers make the coolest killers" was its motto.
If anything, this "Retired, Extremely Dangerous" sequel ups the ante. There's a new acronym — "ICE: Incarcerated, Cannot Execute." They've replaced killed-off Oscar winners with others — Anthony Hopkins as an addled scientist and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Russian agent and Frank's one-time lady love. The change in directors to comedy specialist Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) means there's a laugh a minute amid all this mayhem.
Somebody has Wikileaked info about a secret bomb project named "Nightshade" that Frank and Marvin were linked to decades before. Now they need to survive the hitmen — played by Neal McDonough (The Guardian) and Korean actor and martial arts star Byung-hun Lee (G.I. Joe: Retaliation ) — sent to get them. Frank and Marvin also have to find the mad scientist who built the bomb (Hopkins) to clear their names.
Frank drags Sarah along to Paris, Moscow and London as they do. Mirren returns as a droller-than-droll MI6 assassin, Cox reprises his Russian spy boss. David Thewlis shows up as a sadistic spy and snooty wine lover.
Some bit players are bland, but the difference between Willis in the more recent Die Hard movies and here is that of an exhausted old man forced to repeat himself and carry a movie, versus a lark where he gives action cred to supporting players who do the heavy, funny lifting.
It's a movie of hilarious reaction shots — little moments where the mere facial expression of Parker, Mirren, Hopkins or Malkovich sells the gag — and scores and more scores of jokes. Malkovich is a laugh riot — watch how he pizza-schools a Russian whose Moscow Papa John's they take over while breaking into the Kremlin. Moments after an epic brawl ends, Lee's Han the Hitman limps away, and for effect gives a vigorous shake of the leg that early in the fight we saw take a vicious whack from a fire extinguisher.
The car chases are played for exciting laughs. Sarah dives into an ancient French Citroën and shouts, "I've so got this!" even when she so doesn't. The fights are credible and, in the case of the skilled Mr. Lee, incredible.
It's all ground we've sort of covered before, and things do tend to drag before the too-violent third act turns too bloody.
But RED 2 goes down easily, from Malkovich's demented moments of relationship advice to Mirren's tender and amusing Hitchcock reunion with Hopkins. There's a knowing twinkle in their eyes, and in everybody else's.
"Yeah, we could've done a Bond film," they seem to wink. "And it would've been a bloody fun one at that."
PG-13 for pervasive action and violence including frenetic gunplay, and for some language and drug material. Summit. 1:48. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.