Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker
Directed by: Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest”)
Written by: Jon Hoeber (“Red”) and Erich Hoeber (“Red”)

It’s pretty clear the current trend in Hollywood is making sequels. Franchises dominate and most new follow-up entries are surefire ways for studios to make some guaranteed cash. But the existence of “Red 2” is a strange one. The first installment had a decent reception from critics, but the box office numbers were far from impressive. The film only garnering $22.5 million and finishing second on opening weekend and grossed under $100 million domestically. Nonetheless, with sequels as popular as ever before (and whether audiences were clamoring for it or not), “Red 2” has arrived and deserves a little fanfare.

Now retired, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is told by old friend Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) that killers are after then and they need to find a safe place to retreat. Thinking Marvin is just paranoid, Frank would rather just stay put with his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) and get on with life. A quiet life for Frank, however, isn’t in the cards. Soon, Interpol is on their tail thinking they are somehow tied to a nuclear device that has fallen into the wrong hands. Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren returns to the action as Victoria, a contract killer who has been paid to take out her former colleagues.

There’s a palpable sense of fun between cast members. Willis and Parker have great chemistry throughout the film and Willis in particular embraces the loose tone while bringing an appropriate level of action most fans know him for. Perhaps nobody is having more fun than Malkovich, whose paranoid and overly prepared character is easily the best in the film. So much of what Malkovich does is at the very least amusing. At its best, you can see why directors like the Coen brothers and Spike Jonze have cast him in darkly comical roles in the past. Still, it doesn’t all work. The novelty of seeing Mirren fire giant guns has worn off a bit, and the villain characters of the film are worthless.

The biggest struggle “Red 2” has is a fight for tone. At times, the film can strike a nice balance of humor and action, mostly when utilizing its veteran cast. In others, it is far too hokey. Characters like those performed by Brian Cox or Catherine Zeta-Jones are over the top and unfunny when put into context of the film. It’s things like Mirren reaching two arms out of either side of a moving car to fire guns or Cox watching Mirren’s feet as she shoots a gun and smelling her shoes that add a goofy albeit off-putting element.

It’s an interesting concept to see people in their 50s and 60s be able to star and hold their own in an action film. Many of the action scenes work well and are entertaining. Still, its loose tone is both a blessing and a curse. It’s highest moments provide some solid comedy and action (mostly courtesy of Malkovich) while it’s lowest feel like a director trying way too hard. There’s nothing here that is going to amaze viewers, but you could do a lot worse this summer than “Red 2.”

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