Retired Extremely Dangerous CIA agents return to their killing ways when someone appears to be picking them off in Red, a spunky little action movie that gives the AARP crowd a chance at bad-assness.
Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) doesn’t seem to be exactly loving his retirement. The highlight of his day is when he gets an excuse to call Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a customer service rep at some U.S. Treasury office. He tears up the check the government sends him and then calls her up to get a new one and small talk about what she’s reading or the places she wants to travel. Before he can move their friendship IRL, Moses is nearly taken out by a hit squad that appears in the dead of night at his unassuming suburban house. As he was once a spy, he quickly takes them out and skips town, heading for Sarah, whom he fears may also be at risk.
Not surprisingly, Sarah isn’t completely thrilled when the man she’d been phone flirting with shows up uninvited in her living room. To get her to come with him and stay a step ahead of whoever’s hunting him, Frank has to resort to some duct tape and some mild kidnapping. His plan is not just to go on the run but to figure out who wants him dead and why. For that he turns to former colleagues — Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), now spending his days ogling the female staff at his nursing home; Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), a nutter living way off the grid, and Victoria (Helen Mirren), a former assassin who now lives in a posh Martha Stewart-esque home but occasionally takes jobs as a hit man to keep her hand in.
Willis and Parker are at this story’s center but it’s Malkovich and Mirren who truly make the movie fun. Malkovich gives his ability to do crazypants free rein and Mirren seems to be having a blast shooting at bad guys and James Bonding around a fancy gala during one caper. They are enjoyable enough to watch that you can forgive the movie’s flimsiness when they are around.
Ironically, the flimsiness is that this movie is all about having the regal Mirren and the grandfatherly Freeman be the action heroes. That is the movie’s central joke, the dramatic irony that propels its gags forward. We’re used to seeing Willis drop bad guys with one punch or rescue the girl, but not grayer actors. This could have become very tired very fast, but the movie makes it work with its snappy mix of actors — Mirren, Freeman and supporting players like Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox and Ernest Borgnine. It’s a one-note joke but the joke works. And Malkovich adds that perfect note of nuttiness — he is great both dejectedly dragging around a stuffed pig and later crazily shooting at an enemy with the giant gun that was hidden in said pig.
Red doesn’t have a lot of heft but it has enough fun to keep the movie going. B-
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language. Directed by Robert Schwentke and written by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber (from a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner), Red is an hour and 51 minutes long and distributed by Summit Entertainment.