Bruce Willis as Frank Moses
John Malkovich as Marvin
Mary-Louise Parker as Sarah
Helen Mirren as Victoria
Anthony Hopkins as Bailey
Byung-hun Lee as Han Cho Bai
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Katja
Neal McDonough as Jack Horton
David Thewlis as The Frog
Garrick Hagon as Davis
Tim Pigott-Smith as Director Philips
Brian Cox as Ivan

Directed by Dean Parisot

It’s nearly the same as the first “RED,” but less so.

The filmmakers, and probably the money people behind them, have taken the first film as less of a set-up and more in the way of market research for how to make a franchise work, coming to the decision that what worked should then be re-used as much as possible, and everything else should be jettisoned. So expect a lot of John Malkovich wearing strange costumes and being generally weird while Helen Mirren shows up occasionally to shoot at people.

And Frank (Bruce Willis) and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) spend a lot of time snarking at each other about their relationship not working.

In the years since getting out from under the government yoke, the pair have settled down to a life of Frank trying to return to a normal life while Sarah chafes to return to a life of adventure and resents being handled with kid gloves when things get dangerous. Which, considering Frank used to be the CIA’s best killer, will happen time again as his past keeps catching up to him.

Like any good action movie or comedy, it’s really just a crutch to string sitcom set-ups and action sequences together, rather than a constant flow of character related quirkiness within a larger story. “RED 2” is not a good action movie or a good comedy–it’s not a particularly bad one either–but it’s definitely more one than the other this time around. An obvious decision has been made, first off with the move to director Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest”), to make “RED 2” less of an action-comedy and more of a comedy with some action in it.

But there’s not enough surprise to make that work, as so much of the film is about recycling what was good the first time around, so you know the punchline as soon as you see the set-up. John Malkovich makes funny faces and tries to get Bruce Willis to talk about his feelings–proving that a little Marvin is much better than a lot of Marvin–while Mirren is dry and Willis looks pained as scenes devolve into silliness with little point.

The other downside of that choice is the fact that the action is not up to par, often tenuously connected to the plot at best and and perfunctorily executed, with little to make you stand up and cheer.

There are good things. Mary-Louise Parker is given an actual storyline and things to do for the first time as she pushes Frank to treat her as more of an equal in adventure and life, a struggle which becomes more complicated when Frank’s old spy-flame Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones) shows up in the picture.

It also turns out Byung-hun Lee, the world’s greatest assassin sent to find and kill Frank before he can find out why people are trying to find and kill him, actually has an excellent feel for comedy, at least when playing the straight man.

Also, Anthony Hopkins as an excellent subdued mad scientist is the best thing about the film, knowing exactly how little to chew the scenery for once.

It’s not enough to quite make up for the loss of the ensemble that made the first film work so well, but it’s got its moments. Not enough of them to make a good whole, though. Yeah, risk management is part of the reason sequels exist at all, but it’s hard to make a good story when that’s your driving rational, and “RED 2” is proof of that.