*** The 2010 box office hit Red was directed by Robert Schwentke, who finds himself spending this summer enduring awful feedback for his latest effort, R.I.P.D. Instead, it's Dean Parisot who handles helming duties for Red 2 - it's a smooth changing of the guard, made easier by the fact that the same duo who wrote the first picture, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, are back for this follow-up.
Although it might qualify as more of the same, this sequel isn't a lazy toss-off, meaning filmgoers who enjoyed Red will likely enjoy Red 2 as well. Since I'm included among that number, it was two hours well spent at the movie theater.
Morgan Freeman obviously doesn't return (fans of the first film know why), but everyone else is back on board: Bruce Willis as retired CIA agent Frank Moses, trying to settle into a life of domesticity; Mary-Louise Parker as his girlfriend Sarah, who enjoyed the taste of danger she previously experienced and wants more; John Malkovich as Marvin, whose rampant paranoia is proven to be justified as often as not; Helen Mirren as Victoria, the cucumber-cool killer who treats her profession like a hobby; and even Brian Cox as Ivan, Victoria's Russian roll in the hay.
They're all reunited for a twisty tale that finds the gang globe-hopping in an effort to locate a nuclear device before anyone else does. New to the fold is Anthony Hopkins as the barmy, befuddled creator of the WMD, Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Soviet agent who used to share Frank's bed, and Byung-hun Lee as an assassin who has sworn to kill Frank.
The film is occasionally too bloodthirsty for its own good, and some of the comedic banter between Frank, Sarah and Marvin is forced and lunges for laughs that don't materialize. Yet the good cheer of the performers as they wholeheartedly throw themselves into their roles is infectious, the script contains a few satisfying surprises, and the action scenes are crisply staged and cleanly shot.
Audiences who have been burned by too many of this season's high-profile titles might want to take a chance on this comparatively small-scale effort: Like a favorite pair of slippers, it may not exactly be new, but it makes for a comfortable fit.