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'RED 2' review: Oldsters still going strong

Helen Mirren in a scene from "RED 2."

Helen Mirren in a scene from "RED 2." Credit: AP

Back in late 2010, the action-comedy "RED" grew into a sleeper hit. Starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren as over-the-hill secret agents pulled back into action, "RED" -- an acronym for Retired, Extremely Dangerous -- became the rare "senior" movie to appeal to a wider audience. Its $200 million worldwide gross is something that sweeter, gooier movies like "Quartet" and "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" couldn't quite manage.

The overarching joke of "RED" was that these twinkly-eyed oldsters were actually cold-blooded killers. Willis, as black ops veteran Frank Moses, could still dispatch paramilitary goons single-handedly; Mirren, as MI6 sharpshooter Victoria, stashed a machine gun in her floral arrangements.

Fast-paced and slightly black-humored, "RED" was breezy fun with an exceptional cast that included a comparatively young Mary-Louise Parker (she's now 48) as Sarah Ross, a sassy civilian accidentally dragged into Frank's latest mess.

"RED 2," in which Frank's new romance with Sarah is interrupted by news of a doomsday plot, hews closely to the original film's formula. (Brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber return as screenwriters, while fledgling director Dean Parisot seamlessly replaces Robert Schwentke.) Mirren is back, as are Malkovich as the LSD-addled savant Marvin Boggs and the wonderful Brian Cox as the hardy Soviet spy Ivan. New additions include Catherine Zeta-Jones as the temptress Katja, Anthony Hopkins (in a slightly uneven performance) as mad scientist Edward Bailey and an appealing Byung Hun Lee (the "G.I. Joe" films) as martial-arts maestro Han.

The threadbare story -- a bomb made of "red mercury" lies hidden in Russia, but it's those new screen villains, the Iranians, who want it -- is a pleasant excuse for elaborate action sequences and mid-shootout wisecracks in picturesque locales like London and Paris.

There's one difference: The old-folks jokes have largely disappeared. That makes "RED 2" feel a little less fresh, but the characters (taken from the 2003 comic-book series) remain strong and the actors still sparkle. Mirren in particular handles more action here, and the 67-year-old dame looks darn good firing double-fisted pistols in slow motion. "RED 2" stands quite sturdily on its own as a caper comedy whose stars just happen to be approaching 50, 60 and even 70 years old.

PLOT The aging agents known as "Retired, Extremely Dangerous" reunite to stop a doomsday plot.

RATING PG-13 (for violence, language, drug references)

CAST Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker


BOTTOM LINE The senior stars of the 2010 action-comedy "RED" are still going strong in this enjoyably breezy sequel.

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