The over-the-top over-the-hill gang is back in Red 2, still swapping banter and bullets indiscriminately.
Not much has changed since the 2010 original: Frank (Bruce Willis), the retired super-spy, has once again slipped into a world of wimpy domesticity. "Want to go look at the window treatments?" he excitedly asks Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), his former hostage, now housemate.
Then another old mission of Frank's explodes. The particulars are both ridiculously complicated and totally inconsequential this time, too. The important thing is that every government agency and freelance assassin on the planet is now avidly stalking Frank.
He'll need the help of those geriatric gunmen Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren), not only to survive but also to break into a series of impregnable redoubts, including, this time, the Kremlin.
The Red franchise has been turned over to TV director Dean Parisot, who gives the sequel a quicker start and a warmer burnish while referencing the story's tenuous comic-book roots. He doesn't put a lot of effort, however, into making the stunt doubles convincing. That seems to be a dying art in Hollywood, anyway.
While Red spread its merry mayhem up and down Route 66, Red 2 has a distinctly European flavor, spraying shell casings across the continent's major capitals.
Willis and Malkovich have settled into an easy and enjoyable rapport (although it's odd how Marvin has gone from being a paranoid psycho recluse to a chatty, sensible relationship expert).
The additions to the cast - Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sir Anthony Hopkins - overplay their hands, not recognizing how exceedingly nonchalant the tone of this farce is.
Is it cynical to suggest Korean action star Byung-hun Lee has been recruited to lure a bigger Asian audience for Red 2? It's hard to imagine another explanation for his excessive screen time as "the da Vinci of Death."
When not inane, the movie's trademark mix of gunplay and gags ("Why is it terrorists never appreciate Burgundy?") is undeniably engaging. But in its long, punishing final act, Red 2 goes beyond its mandate as a lark to pose as a true action caper.
It should make for a rousing finish, but by that time, enemies and allies have changed sides so many times so randomly, that you're not sure who's fighting whom or why. You just know they all look a little old to be engaged in this sort of reckless behavior.
Red 2 **1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Dean Parisot. With Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren. Distributed by Summit Entertainment.
Running time: 1 hour, 56 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, violence, drugs)
Playing at: area theaters