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Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins are having fun anyway in “Red 2.”

Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are two of the three cast members conspicuously having actual fun in “Red 2” – so much fun, in fact, that they each get that actor’s favorite, some mad scenes. The other cast member actually enjoying herself is Mary-Louise Parker, but we’ll get to her.

Mirren is playing a sharpshooting secret agent ineptly pretending to be crazy so that she can gain entry to a mental hospital in Moscow. (Got that?) She does a wildly over-the-top version of lunacy, gets away with it and then, later, brags to her secret agent chums “I thought I was channeling Bette Davis.” A wicked actor’s line that. An actress could get a kick out of a thing like that.

Hopkins, on the other hand, is playing the secretly incarcerated genius of a weapons inventor whom Mirren wants to liberate from 32 years of imprisonment in a Russian asylum. He delivers his lines in manic prestissimo spasms as if he were Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” on speed.

Because Hopkins really is one of the world’s great actors, you aren’t sure just how weirdly Shakespearean crazy this dude is – unlike Mirren who, for espionage purposes, is doing an impression of a woman who is vain and sane and merely pretending to be as mad as a hatter in some sort of suburban theater piece.

Mirren and Hopkins are not having the best of luck in movies these days. They were both pointlessly terrific as Alma and Alfred Hitchcock in that godawful recent film about the making of Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” But then there is a fine art to actors on the senior tour briefly trashing their gifts for fun and profit and, by jove, they’ve both got it, really got it.

Mary-Louise Parker at 48 is played as the dewy-eyed ingenue in the cast in “Red 2” even though she’s five years older than Catherine Zeta-Jones (Parker opens opposite herself in the unpreviewed “R.I.P.D.” on Friday.

“Red” has nothing to do with the color; it’s from a D.C. comic and means “Retired Extremely Dangerous.”

Parker, too, is having the sort of fun you ought to have in a comic book movie whose raison d’etre is to give senior citizens a chance to be karate-chopping, bullet-riddling Bondian tough guys on several continents. When you see Mirren, with pistols in each hand and arms outstretched outside both front windows of a car, you know she’s having enough of an idiot good time to share it with an entertainment-hungry audience.

Don’t ask, though, about Bruce Willis and John Malkovich. They were terrific in the original “Red.” I was a little embarrassed for both in this sequel – Malkovich, now reduced to wearing silly costumes as if he were a college student at a college fraternity theatrical and Willis seeming to be truly tired of the whole thing. (Which he also was plugging the film on Letterman. Maybe his new late-life baby is keeping him up nights.)

There’s something more than a little condescending and insufferable about the fun to be had in these “Red” movies – even in the first, far better one. And that condescension is this basic attitude: That, oh yeah, we showfolk know everyone over 60 has become hugely irrelevant to the world of zillion-dollar showbiz pandering. But we also know that if you give them rock’em, sock’em action comedy movies, they’ll show up in highly profitable droves to see their surrogates dispatching those a third their age with endless bullets and martial arts moves.

How cute to see the irrelevant old folks acting up, don’t you think? Which, of course, is why the “old folks” in the casts of these “Red” movies enjoy the crudity of the youth-bashing they’re asked to do.

Some of them anyway.

I’ll say this for this fatigued new version of a “Red” film: At least it has what a comic book movie ought to have, i.e. it’s a little comic. Some of the abundant wisecracks are genuinely funny. (When Black Ops pro Willis tries to get Parker, as his much-younger girlfriend, to move to a farm in Canada, he sells her on the idea by explaining that in Canada there’s a lot of “high ground. Good kill zones.”) On the other hand, I laughed with more than a little disgust when the writers jauntily refer to one guy as a “rock star of mass killing. They call him the DaVinci of death.” That’s a crass TV sitcom joke about the Black Ops business.

What they’re all after – including Zeta-Jones as a high-glam Russian – is Hopkins’ fancy shmancy new bomb, hidden somewhere in Moscow.

With all these wildly talented and charismatic actors and all that bulletry and martial arts and car chasing, it can’t help but be watchable.

But it also can’t help but be full of wasted opportunities, too.

The worst by far, to me, is this one. In one scene that clearly exists for no other reason, a character played by Alex Cox shakes hands with the character played by Hopkins.

Why, you might ask, bother with THAT? I’ll tell you why. Because they’re the two actors who first magnificently played Thomas Harris’ character Hannibal Lecter – Cox first in Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” and then, more famously, Hopkins.

With all that, couldn’t some clever writers concoct a whole scene for them with some decent dialogue?

Not in this movie.

It’s more interested in condescension and demographic pandering than actually being fun.


Two and a half stars

Starring: Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Mary Louise Parker

Director: Dean Parisot

Running time: 116 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for much shooting, fighting, profanity and drug material.

The Lowdown: Frank Moses and his “Retired Extremely Dangerous” friends are back in the secret agent business to protect the world from a lunatic scientist’s new weapon.