In a year filled with “let’s put a highly skilled team together to combat a massive conspiracy” movies (see “The Losers,” “The A-Team” and “The Expendables”) the similarly plotted “RED” feels like shoveling manure onto the pile. The film’s only major tweak from the formula, and the only thing saving it from irrelevance, is its silver-haired, 10-percent-discount-at-Wendy’s-eligible cast. Granted, some of the cast members of “The Expendables” were also on the senile end of the cognitive-abilities spectrum, but “RED” expertly uses the old age of its characters for (intentionally) comedic purposes, making it a worthwhile action-comedy romp.

“RED”

At Quality 16 and Rave
Summit Films

The film follows Frank Moses (Bruce Willis, “Die Hard”), a retired CIA agent slogging through life, his only excitement coming from telephone conversations with pension worker Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker, TV’s “Weeds”) and a hope to one day meet her. After being inexplicably targeted for assassination by a CIA hit squad, Moses goes on a “Blues Brothers”-like journey to bring his former cohorts back together and unravel the conspiracy behind the attack, taking Sarah along for the ride.

“RED” thrives on the backs of its exceptional characters. Moses isn’t just another prototypical Bruce Willis tough-guy role; he’s an emotionally stunted killing machine hankering for some sort of human connection in his life. He attempts to make one with Sarah, who could have oh-so-easily been written as a helpless, shrieking, damsel-in-distress but instead embraces the incredulity of her situation and eagerly contributes to the operation.

As Marvin Boggs, the team’s token hyper-paranoid, mentally imbalanced wild card, John Malkovich (“Burn After Reading”) does what he does best: yell loudly and act like a crazy homeless person. Playing the role with utterly gleeful abandon, Malkovich is so superbly side-splitting that one forgets this is just a hyperactive version of the same role he always plays.

The butter on the popcorn is the very presence of venerated acting legends Morgan Freeman (“Invictus”) and Helen Mirren (“The Queen”) in such a silly film. Watching a guy use a machine gun turret is not funny. Watching an old lady use one is only kind of funny. But seeing Dame Helen Mirren, the Oscar winning prim-and-proper portrayer of Queen Elizabeth II, man a machine gun turret with ruthless precision? Priceless.

“RED” succeeds because, as great as the aforementioned scenes are, it’s much more than a one-note film about 60-somethings running around, playing James Bond. The interplay among the cast is delightful, feeling as organic as possible amid the absurd goings-on. The movie is at its absolute best when the entire team is together, but the pace of the film is so achingly slow that by the time this happens the movie is already almost over.

Based on a graphic novel, the film is shot in an ultra-cool stylized manner that mimics comic book panels (think “Scott Pilgrim” lite). But the action isn’t completely cartoonish — sure, there’s the scene where Marvin shoots an RPG dead-on with a revolver, but there are also perfectly normal shootouts and a brutal, “Bourne”-style man-on-man brawl. The only gripe is that the action sequences are annoyingly brief and the climax similarly lacks oomph, possibly due to the age of the actors.

“RED” is the definition of an escapist movie. It accomplishes its sole purpose to be a satisfying mental diversion for audiences, and one can’t help to think that such luminaries as Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman agreed to star in the film in the first place to escape their typical, stodgy dramatic roles. Undoubtedly, you’ll have as much fun watching “RED” as the actors clearly had making it.

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