Iwasn't a big fan of the first Red film in 2010, a shoot-'em-up spy caper where ageing government assassins came out of retirement for one last job.
The premise (based on the comic of the same name) had the potential for big laughs. Superannuated assassins? Geriatric gunslingers? Contract- killing old coots? Bring on the Zimmer frames with hidden machine guns! It's Bond with bad hips! It's Bourne with aching bones!
But the film was just so, well, retiring. Bruce Willis did his same old tough guy routine. John Malkovich was loopier than usual as a paranoid ex-CIA survivalist. And the action sequences were nothing to write home about.
The only saving grace was Dame Helen Mirren as a pompous contract-killing granny who could drop a smart bomb as proficiently as a well-pronounced F-bomb.
Yet Red 2, I'm pleased to report, is that rare thing in movies - a sequel that trumps its original. Only just, mind you. But new director Dean Parisot trims the fat of the first film and adds better actors, more laughs, more firepower and more knowing winks at the camera.
In the amusing opening sequence, suspicious screwball Marvin (Malkovich) fakes his own death and funeral. "He does it all the time," Frank (Willis) quips, pricking Marvin with a pin in his casket, just for kicks.
Marvin warns Frank and his much younger GF Sarah (Mary- Louise Parker) that the CIA is after them for smuggling an undetectable nuclear bomb. When cornered by a nasty CIA henchman (Neal McDonough) and his men, Frank leaps back into action. In the original Die Hard, Willis scattered broken glass on the floor so the bad guys gave away their position when they stepped on it. Here he scatters potato chips. You know you're old when . . .
Frank, Sarah and Marvin go on the run from Paris to London to Moscow to find the bomb and clear their names. Trouble is, the bomb is hidden under the Kremlin, its inventor (Anthony Hopkins) is in an insane asylum and the CIA has hired its former ally (Mirren) and a Korean hitman (Byung-hun Lee) to kill them.
There's some clever zingers here, thanks to writers Jon and Erich Hoeber. During a tense shoot-out, Marvin cowers behind Frank, almost spooning him. "Is that a stick of dynamite in your pocket?" Frank quips. "Where did you get the dead bodies?" Sarah asks when Mirren fakes their deaths using cadavers. "From my freezer, silly!" Mirren deadpans back.
Yes, it's eyeball-rolling stuff. Mirren shoots out of both windows of a Porsche as it performs a 180. The Korean hitman kills with origami. And Parisot moves it at a steady clip and keeps the tone light, upbeat and even zany, as is fitting for a comic spy caper starring senior citizens.
On the down side, Catherine Zeta-Jones is wasted in a minor role, Hopkins is hit and miss as the mad scientist and Willis coasts on his Die Hard persona (as he's done for the past 20 years).
Yet Mirren is a hoot as the posh psychopath and Malkovich steals it as the screwy spook, giving his best performance in years. Both clearly know the kind of madcap caper they're in.
Maybe I've grown more immature in the three years since the first film. Maybe I've become less demanding. Maybe the bar has been lowered too far. But Red 2 is a giddy hoot. If you don't enjoy it, check your funnybone for arthritis.