PLOT: Ex-CIA agents, targeted for elimination, cowboy up and wreak havoc on the agency.
BOTTOM LINE: Reckless fun, with a cast of pros who cut up with high-caliber aplomb.
CAST: Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich
Director Robert Schwentke has orchestrated the high-concept thriller ("Flightplan") and the humanistic drama ("The Time-Traveler's Wife") and there's a bit of both in "RED," an all-star game of espionage, sardonic humor and large-bore destruction. The danger in having quite this many outsize personalities on board - Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich - is that you usually capsize, but the wonderful thing about the ex-CIA agents they play in "RED" ("Retired: Extremely Dangerous") is that the characters are as impervious to defeat as the actors. At no time do we worry about their safety; the villains are much more deserving of our concern.
Parker is Sarah Ross, a Social Security administrator-phone drone, who gets the occasional call from retired government worker Frank Moses (Willis), asking where his check is. Frank knows where his check is - he sets it on fire every month so he can call Sarah and ask where the check is. But after a near-division of CIA agents arrives at Frank's home - and is quickly dispatched by him - he has to go to Chicago, grab the now-endangered Sarah and flee, setting out to find his crazy old colleagues and form a united front against federally funded assassination.
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Sarah is our stand-in and Parker is great - her wry delivery is the perfect complement to Willis. Her constant amazement at what goes on keeps the story (based on the DC comic by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner) rooted in quasi-reality. It's a reality under constant assault - Malkovich, who usually plays matters a tad unhinged, is utterly mad as Marvin; Mirren is a fantastically elegant specialist in "wet work" (murder); Freeman is Freeman, which is good; seeing Ernest Borgnine play anything, even a CIA functionary, is a delight.
"RED" is about people who could easily, in another context, be villains, but perhaps that's what gives the movie its edge - that, and an unrestrained spirit of purely ludicrous yet comically satisfying fantasy.
Helen Mirren, inaction star
Playing a former sniper in "RED," 65-year-old Helen Mirren wields a semiautomatic as gracefully as she arranges flowers. Mirren, the Oscar-winning actress whose screen credits include "The Last Station" and "The Queen," admits she was nervous about becoming an action star but says working with Bruce Willis eased the transition.
"I was very lucky in our leader, Bruce, a huge movie star, but he's also an incredibly down-to-earth, welcoming, hardworking geezer," she says. "He's a good geezer, and personally, I love a good geezer." Mirren says she looked to domestic diva Martha Stewart with her "gracious intelligence combined with a steely determination" to create the lethal-yet- elegant character. Despite her best intentions and a reputation for a rock-hard body, Mirren spent little time training physically for the role.
"I'm terrible; I'm so lazy," Mirren says. "Every time I start a film I go, 'I've really got to get fit for this one.' OK. I'll start tomorrow. . . . And then only two weeks to shooting, 'I better start now.' I'm afraid that's the story of my workout ethic."
- Associated Press