By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio

Better RED than RED 2. Much better.

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RED 2 is the pale-imitation sequel to the 2010 action crime comedy that was inspired by the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner about a motley crew of assassins who are, as the titular acronym indicates, Retired but Extremely Dangerous.

(2 stars out of 4)

(2 stars out of 4)

Bruce Willis returns, as do John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, and Mary-Louise Parker (Morgan Freeman, whose character was killed in the first film, having departed), and they’re joined for this outing by Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones, as well as Byung-hun Lee, Brian Cox, and David Thewlis.

In this tongue-in-cheek road romp, Willis is a seemingly-out-to-pasture elite operative, CIA agent Frank Moses, who has settled into a life of humdrum but contented domesticity, something that bothers girlfriend Parker more than it does Frank.

Then his wacky colleague Malkovich shows up to inform him that Wikileaks has reported that the two ex-ops have knowledge of a highly secret weapon of mass destruction.

Thus is Frank, willy-nilly, reunited with his team of old-school black-ops as they travel to London, Paris, and Moscow in a desperate attempt against all odds to track down a missing portable nuclear device while dealing with crazed terrorists and ambitious government officials who outnumber them and want the weapon for themselves.

Director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest, Home Fries, Fun with Dick and Jane), most of whose directorial assignments have been in television, works from a convoluted, logic-and-reason-be-damned script by returning screenwriting brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber. Parisot keeps things moving at a rapid clip, granted, but so much of the narrative lacks believability, even by comic-book standards, that it defeats the otherwise game primary cast.

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The biggest deficiency is the lack of the kind of winking humor that was such a highlight the first time around. Whereas the first outing offered a smooth blend of action and comedy, the second has abrupt shifts from one mode to the other that jar and disappoint.

It’s as if the director forgot that it wasn’t the extended action that made the original special but good-natured comedy delivered by actors who know how. Which is a shame, and a waste of the thespian talent on display.

Consequently, there’s far too much straightforward ho-hum gunplay, the kind in which hundreds of bullets fly in quick succession and none of them manage to hit the film’s stars, even though they’re sitting there directly in the line of fire.

The whole point of RED — royal entertainment provided by entertainment royalty, enacted by performers with a heady degree of experience, ability, expertise, and accumulated wisdom that parallels that of the characters they portray – gets buried this time out in a barrage of bullets.

When RED 2 wants to be quirkily funny, which is seldom, it is. But when it turns into a Mission: Impossible wannabe, which is often, it’s awkward and deficient.

So we’ll retire 2 stars out of 4 for RED 2, an unnecessarily violent action-omedy with far too much action and not nearly enough “omedy.”

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