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POPCORN AND A (WORLD)VIEW

Retirement isn't the same as being dead … yet

Exclusive: Drew Zahn says 'Red 2' reveals you really can teach old dogs new tricks

In choosing a movie to review this weekend, I was not going to subject myself to “Smurfs 2.” Not gonna happen.

Neither did I want to subject myself to the nonstop violence, incessant obscenity and flagrant nudity of the R-rated “2 Guns.”

Instead, I decided to go back and catch a film I missed earlier, “Red 2,” the geriatric action comedy starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and others.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first “Red” movie, a surprising twist on the action genre, bringing “Red” CIA agents – an acronym for “retired, extremely dangerous” – into the world of witty quips, flying fists and car chases usually reserved for younger stars. John Malkovich as the paranoid “Marvin” in the first film was a particular treat, the 59-year-old Emmy winner and Oscar nominee stealing the show from his typically more charismatic co-stars.

In “Red 2,” however, the filmmakers knew they had a good thing going and allowed Malkovich to hog all the spotlight he wanted, making the sequel perhaps even funnier than the original.

Once again, Bruce Willis’s “Frank Moses” is under threat of assassination, when all he wants is to stay pleasantly retired, and once again he must turn to “Marvin” and his senior-citizen pals to help foil an international intelligence plot.

Only this time, Frank has a younger girlfriend to protect, and the world of secret ops and assassinations is just too dangerous for the new life he wants with his would-be wife. All of this leads to a hilarious, ongoing joke of the other “Red” agents giving Frank and his gal relationship advice, which is truly the magic of “Red 2,” as a group of “old dogs” teach another “old dog” new tricks in the game of love.

Unfortunately, the “old people can still kick some butt” shtick isn’t nearly as fresh the second time around, much to the detriment in “Red 2,” which too often slows down and gets downright dull whenever the action actually heats up on screen. It’s an odd paradox that when it turns to fights and chases, “Red 2″ suddenly loses its steam.

But fans of the first film (and of Malkovich) will likely forgive the spotty plot and bland action just to enjoy the humor, clever scriptwriting and delightful exchanges between these veteran actors playing easy-to-love characters.

Though you may have to catch it quick or settle for DVD, “Red 2″ is a fun and funny sequel worth checking out, especially for fans of the first “Red.”

And though the film is mostly a fluffy summer romp, it does play off a tension between Frank and Russian counterintelligence agent Katja (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones), as they argue over their respective missions, their relationship and their obligations to do what’s right despite their superiors’ orders.

Speaking of their previous affinity for one another, Katja insists in international espionage, “Feelings don’t matter any more than right or wrong.”

But for Frank, dismissing right and wrong isn’t so easily done. And when orders from on high or contracts to kill are clearly in the wrong, he’s willing to ditch them in order to do what’s right instead.

Profound, life-altering moral to the story? Not exactly.

But at least while you’re enjoying the spy plot and witty banter of “Red 2,” you’ll know it isn’t leading down a path reprehensible to biblical values.

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