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Red’s’ Retirees Save the Day and the Movie

Maija Gustin | Thursday, October 28, 2010

“Red” is, at its most basic, exactly what you expect it to be — an excuse for a bunch of aging (but still great) movie stars to wield big guns and prove they’ve still got “it.” And is there anything wrong with that? “Red” isn’t likely to be on anyone’s Top 10 list this year, but it’s the type of cheesy cinematic thrill that deserves a little appreciation. It’s a fun movie. It’s fun to watch Bruce Willis keep doing his tough guy thing, even at the age of 55. It’s fun to watch Morgan Freeman pretend to be a French diplomat. It’s fun to watch John Malkovich put on his paranoid-neurotic-but-deadly persona. And it’s really fun to watch Dame Helen Mirren shoot a machine gun.

The film centers on Willis’ Frank Moses and his motley crew of RED (Retired Extremely Dangerous) cohorts. When the CIA tries to kill Moses and his crush, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), he gathers the old gang together to try to figure out why. That gang includes Freeman’s nursing home-bound Joe Matheson; Marvin Boggs (Malkovich), who was once given daily doses of LSD and Victoria (Mirren), a deadly assassin.

The plot features typical political corruption, a fairly predictable ending and lots of explosions. With few surprises along the way, “Red” relies on its veteran cast, which also includes recent “Star Trek” star Karl Urban and famed Scottish actor Brian Cox, to make the movie more than just a stale, formulaic action flick. And the vets deliver.

Bruce Willis can take down a handful of trained CIA agents without blinking an eye. Morgan Freeman has deadly aim with a handgun. John Malkovich has even deadlier aim when facing large missiles. And Helen Mirren maintains a composure reminiscent of her turn in “The Queen” when firing a machine gun. The four, along with their talented costars, are hilarious to boot. The comedy draws primarily on geriatric jokes and strange accents, but in the hands of these seasoned pros, even the cheesiest joke is still funny.

The cast really is superb, bringing their best to the table and clearly having a ball in the process. Helen Mirren and John Malkovich, though, are certainly the most memorable. There’s something about the image of Malkovich in a coat of dynamite running like a madman or Mirren in a regal white gown with combat boots on that is hard to forget. Karl Urban, in one of the bigger roles of his career, does a great job as the CIA is-he-good-or-bad agent. His fight scene with Bruce Willis is a definite “Red” highlight. 

With a lesser cast, “Red” probably would have been horrible. It’s unique because it’s an action movie starring an over-50 cast. But that’s where the movie’s distinctiveness ends. However, director Robert Schwentke (“The Time Traveler’s Wife”) seems keenly aware of the material and plays up the shtick. He emphasizes all the right moments for a film that is a great blend of comedy, action and Hollywood superstardom.

Ultimately, “Red” is entirely reliant on its fantastic cast to hold it together. Without them, specifically Willis, Freeman, Malkovich and Mirren, “Red” would be subpar at best. Even with them, it’s more an enjoyable cinematic romp than a good movie. But there is exuberance in the performances that make “Red” worth seeing.