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July 26, 2013

There’s a scene in the latest G.I. Joe movie where, after taking out some guards in a short but intense firefight, Adrianne Palicki asks Bruce Willis if he’s okay. His squinty response: “my cholesterol’s a little high.” Get it? because he’s old, but also badass enough to ignore the automatic weapons fire he’s just been dodging. Yeah, it falls pretty flat.

On paper it would seem that RED and its new sequel are that exact joke — the tough old fogies — stretched out over two feature films. And yet here the premise pays off big time. Maybe it’s because they have the time to develop this part of the characters more than a simple, drop-in gag. Maybe it’s because the surrounding action excites rather than bludgeons the audience. Personally, I think it’s because Galaxy Quest director Dean Parisot knows how to play up comedy, and because these two films are the only entries in Willis’ recent action-heavy portfolio that come close to using his madcap comedic talents.

We pick up with Frank Moses (Willis) trying to settle down with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) after they met last time around. He’s almost desperate to adopt a standard, suburban, white-picket-fence life, and he doesn’t appreciate his erstwhile colleague Marvin (John Malkovich) trying to pull him back into the action. But he has little choice when a document surfaces on the internet implicating him and Marvin in some late-cold-war skulduggery; Marvin climbs into a carbomb in the Costco parking lot, and the CIA and MI6 both send assassins after Frank. There’s some bad blood between Frank and Han Jo-bae (Lee Byung-hun), but his old friend Victoria (Helen Mirren) is polite enough to telephone before hunting him down. So Frank must head off, girlfriend in tow, to enlist the aid of an old Russian paramour (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in tracking down the mad scientist responsible for the bomb that Frank is being framed for sneaking into Moscow (Anthony Hopkins).

If you liked the first RED, this sequel is more of the same in tone, and yet different enough in content to remain fresh and funny. Yes, the spinning car went over big last time and so this time they go back to that well two or three times, but Parisot finds a different approach each time. And they all look awesome enough that it doesn’t really matter if they’re a little repetitive.

Best of all, Jon and Erich Hoeber’s script maintains the bone-dry wit of the original. Hopkins has an engaging presence as an impish lunatic, and Mirren is as charming and classy as ever while blurring the usual lines between “feminine” and “badass”. But the biggest treat is for once getting a taste — albeit a small one — of the old Bruce Willis from Moonlighting, Hudson Hawk, and the original Die Hard. It’s a reminder of what he was so great at before he settled in as just another action hero.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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