The defining image of 2010’s “Red” is Helen Mirren, dressed in an immaculate white evening gown — and combat boots! — calmly blasting away with a .50 caliber machine gun on a tripod. That’s some image, that is: an unexpected mixture of classiness and violence. It’s bizarre. It’s funny.
We didn’t see that one coming.
In “Red 2,” here’s Dame Helen again, in a low-slung sports car dodging automatic-weapons fire from pursuing killers, shouting “show me something” to her driver — and then showing him something as she whips out two pistols and, firing out both side windows simultaneously, cancels the killers’ pursuit.
We sort of did see that one coming.
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That’s a key difference between “Red 2” and the original movie: The element of surprise is largely gone. Largely, but hardly wholly.
“Red 2” does have its share of surprises, and the biggest of these is how funny the picture is and how very much fun the actors in it seem to be having.
Returning for this second go-round along with Mirren are Bruce Willis and John Malkovich, all three again playing Retired Extremely Dangerous secret agents. Returning, too, is Mary-Louise Parker, playing the Willis character’s civilian girlfriend, who has developed a hankering, if not exactly an expertise (at first, at least), for doing secret-agent stuff. Brian Cox is also back as the Mirren character’s Russian-spy lover. New to the game are Anthony Hopkins as an oddball weapons designer, Byung Hun Lee as a super-deadly Korean assassin and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Russian femme fatale.
The plot is a ridiculous but diverting assemblage of spy-movie tropes: a weapons-of-mass-destruction threat, hit squads, car chases and megafights in scenic foreign cities that borrow heavily from the “Bourne” movies. All are handled with brisk assurance by director Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest”), who smoothly juggles mayhem and comedy.
Willis and Malkovich are still center stage, but it’s Parker and Hopkins who have the best scenes and lines of dialogue. Parker’s big-eyed, slightly dizzy embrace of the Willis character and his violent world is a consistent source of laughs, and Hopkins’ loosey-goosey take on his character is his best, most relaxed work in years.
Soren Andersen: email@example.com