© 2010 Ray Wong

Based on a popular graphic novel about a group of retired secret agents, RED is a fun romp steering toward the AARP demographic.

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is like any other retired man -- he works around the house, pays the bills, and expects his government retirement check every month. He's also in love with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a clerk who works at the retirement office. When a group of operatives attempts to kill Frank, he escapes and finds Sarah, who thinks he's crazy. Frank tells her he's a retired CIA agent and she is in danger because the CIA has been monitoring his and her conversations. Soon, their lives are threatened, pursued by agent William Cooper (Karl Urban), and Sarah has no choice but to go along with the ride.

Frank visits his retired colleague Joe (Morgan Freeman) to find out who want to kill him and why. Eventually he realizes he's on a list of people, most of whom have died of one cause or another recently. except him, Marvin (John Malkovich) and an arms dealer named Alexander Dunning (Richard Dreyfuss). Together, Frank and Marvin figure all the people on the list were involved in a secret operation in 1981.

While evading Cooper and the CIA, they visit their old friends and foes such as ex-KGB agent Ivan (Brian Cox) and ex-MI6 Victoria (Helen Mirren) to break into the CIA. Their mission uncovers the people behind everything, and that knowledge puts them all in imminent danger.

Bruce Willis (Surrogates) is in top form, and the role is tailored for him. Charming, groovy and skilled, Willis can play Frank Moses in his sleep. Instead, he gives a spirited and witty, larger-than-life performance. Mary-Louise Parker (Solitary Man) is a bit slight to play Willis' love interest, and her motivation is the most spotty. John Malkovich (Secretariat) is perfect as the zany ex-operative who has a love affair with weaponry.

Karl Urban (Star Trek) is ruthless as the CIA agent whose mission is to kill everyone on his list. It's such a standard villainy role but Urban gives agent Cooper a softer side that we come to sympathize with him: he's just a man trying to do his job. The rest of the cast include seasoned pros that delight us with their tongue-in-cheek wink-wink performances: Helen Mirren (The Last Station) is elegant and sweet, but also a lean, mean killing machine as Victoria; Morgan Freeman (Invictus) is wonderfully wise and gentle as Joe; Brian Cox (As Good as Dead) is wittily romantic as the ex-Russian spy; and Richard Dreyfuss (Piranhas 3D) once again channels his inner-Dick Cheney to play a ruthless businessman.

Adapted by brothers Joe and Erich Hoeber (Whiteout), the script is a hodgepodge of spy thriller, action-adventure, road trip, and buddy comedy. It's also a high-concept fantasy, a great chance for these older actors to play with guns. The plot is in general unimportant, serving as a way to get the characters together and going from point A to point B. In fact, the central conflict and "conspiracy" is rather thin and full of holes. The motivations are implausible. It definitely has "graphic novel" written all over it. The action sequences are outrageous, but the dialogue is generally funny. The relationships among these characters feel genuine, considering they are mostly stereotypes.

The direction of Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler's Wife) is fast-paced and entertaining. In fact, the plot moves so fast it doesn't leave a lot of time for us to dwell on the plot holes. Schwentke manages to preserve the humor and camaraderie of the graphic novel (unlike his effort with The Time Traveler's Wife). The production is good and the brisk editing serves the movie well.

RED takes old concepts and gives the genre a new twist by casting retirees (including a sweet cameo by Ernest Borgnine) in the action-hero roles. The result is a fantasy action-adventure that is entertaining and crowd-pleasing. Just don't expect anything earth-shattering or thought-provoking. It's a fun romp and shouldn't be in the red at the box office.

Stars: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Ubran, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox
Director: Robert Schwentke
Writers: John Hoeber, Erich Hoeber (based on graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner)
Distributor: Summit
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language
Running Time: 111 minutes


Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8

Total – 7.7 out of 10

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