Stop. You're killing me.
“Red 2,” the sequel to the 2010 comedy thriller about retired spies whose past won't let them alone, is as sparkling and dry as the best of white wines. And the vintage players of a certain age are so good at playing droll hitmen, I couldn't stop laughing.
They're so expert at tongue in cheek, in fact, that I didn't care about the ridiculous but exciting action sequences and the life-saving coincidences and the bomb plot that's too complicated for its own good. Or even about the body count, and it's high.
I was too busy laughing at Frank (Bruce Willis) as he tried to hold his babe-in-the-woods girlfriend, Sarah (Mary Louise Parker), back from getting in on the action. Or howling at Frank's best-pal bomb expert, antisocial Marvin (John Malkovich), as he coaches Sarah and goads Frank back into action: “Frank, you haven't killed anybody in a month ... .”
Or, best of all, cracking up at Victoria (Helen Mirren), dissolving bodies in acid as she blithely chats on the phone, or firing semiautomatics with both hands amid a harrowing car chase.
New this time, and also funny: Han (Byung-Hun Lee), a Hong Kong kung-fu hitman revered as the best in the world. (He's got a grudge against Frank.) And Bailey (Anthony Hopkins), an eccentric (loony) British bomb inventor freshly sprung from solitary confinement after 32 years. And Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a Soviet agent who carries a 25-year-old torch for Frank, turning Sarah green with jealousy. And wine connoisseur Frog (David Thewlis), who holds a crucial secret file in a safe deposit box.
The story opens when Frank and Marvin have been falsely fingered anonymously online as having a megaton bomb that's been missing for decades. It was part of a secret plot that could change the global balance of power, overnight.
Suddenly the CIA (Neal McDonough), Katja, Victoria and Han all have contracts to kill our heroes.
The guys have to spring the bomb maker (Hopkins), find the bomb and save the world before the hitmen get to them first. This takes us to Paris, London, Moscow, an Iranian embassy and other cliched backdrops for spy-vs.-spy games.
The whole thing is ludicrous, in the same way James Bond is ludicrous, but so very watchable because it's so darn funny.
One running joke is that these people are just like everybody else — well, except for that world-class expertise at murder, mayhem and wriggling out of impossible situations. Frank has trouble expressing his feelings. Victoria has a lusty side. Frog can't resist an expensive wine to save his soul, let alone his life.
Another is that all the other spies keep giving Frank romantic advice on how to keep Sarah happy. (Victoria: “Just rent 'Dirty Dancing' and tell her you love her.”)
Another is that old grudge Han has against Frank, which deepens in a tiff over a $30 million private jet.
The pleasure for me is that there's no in-your-face blood and gore here, so the violence never dampens the mood. That means I can savor the eyerolls and arched eyebrows, not to mention the arch comments.
Sarah: “Why does Han hate you so much?”
Frank: “Not enough hugs as a child.”
I've rarely had this much fun at the movies since Eve Arden, queen of the arch one-line zinger, gave up the ghost.