Of all the washed-up washed-out over-the-hill too-old-for-this-shit action-hero movies we’ve had thrown at us this year — The A-Team, The Losers, The Expendables — Red is by far the most amusing, the most clever, the most tongue-in-cheek, the most fun (and I say that as someone who mostly liked those other movies). And not just because it features the awesome Helen Mirren as the most elegant dame ever to wield a machine gun in anger. Though that absolutely helps. Sylvester Stallone and Liam Neeson can only wish they were cool enough to warrant the company of Helen Mirren armed with an enigmatic smile and automatic weaponry.
Also, she’d totally kick the ass of that little girl in Kick-Ass whom all the fanboys seemed to think was so amazing this spring. Age and experience… age and experience. It’s nice to see a movie in which everyone is of a certain age and yet the film itself is totally devoid of cracks about heart attacks and Viagra and other shit that’s supposed to be funny about the experiences of anyone over the age of 25. “Bite me, children, and go back to kindergarten,” Red sneers out gleefully. Hoorah!
Not that Red — the title is an acronym for something I won’t reveal, because it’s a good joke on its own that I don’t want to spoil — ignores the plight of the washed-up over-the-hill et cetera. Bruce Willis’s (Cop Out, Planet Terror) former CIA killer Frank Moses is sad and lonely in his retirement: the precision of his life gets a hilarious nod in the opening moment of the film, but his day-to-day life consists of such tedium as actually ripping up his government pension check every month just so’s he can make a phone call to the complaint line and pretend to sweet ’n’ snarky Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker: Howl, Solitary Man) that federal bureaucracy is screwing him over, just so’s he can talk to her. (Check this: Even the youngster of Red — Parker — is fortysomething, and only nine years younger than Willis, who will soon be her on-the-run love interest. This is downright subversive for Hollywood, and good on it.) It kinda doesn’t matter why, but soon someone from Frank’s shady past is gunning for him — literally blowing his depressing little suburban Cleveland house to hell — and so Frank hits the road to whatever miserable Midwestern city Sarah is in, so he can grab her, all the better to save her from the bad guys — they know he likes her, which makes her a target — and figure out what the hell is going on.
There’s actually remarkably little gunplay and explosions going on in Red, so when that does come along every now and then, it’s all the more thrilling/surprising/exciting/ridiculous. (Director Robert Schwentke — who gave us The Time Traveler’s Wife and Flightplan, neither of which seem like preparation for this — and screenwriters Jon and Erick Hoeber — who wrote the totally uninspired Whiteout as well as the upcoming sure-to-be-terrible Battleship — are sharp and circumspect in how he holds back on the action. Though most of the credit probably goes to Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, upon whose graphic novel [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] this is based.) Frank and Sarah grab his former colleagues Morgan Freeman (Invictus, The Dark Knight) out of a New Orleans rest home and John Malkovich (Jonah Hex, Burn After Reading) out of a hilarious Florida swamp hideout, all in an attempt to figure out who’s trying to kill, it seems, all of them, and why… it’s to do with a Bad Thing that went down in Guatemala in 1981. Meanwhile, hottie fed Karl Urban (Star Trek, Pathfinder) is on their tail — Frank notes with amused disdain that he has “pretty” hair, which he does. This cat-and-mouse culminates in a bit in which Willis and Urban get to roll around together beating the crap out of each other in a manly man sort of way, and It. Is. So. Hot. But all the boys in the audience can ignore the delicious inadvertant homoeroticism and just pretend that John McClane and Eomer of Rohan are having a beer, or something.
Oh, yes, and somewhere along the way, they pick up Helen Mirren (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, State of Play), a former MI-6 agent now retired outside Washington, and Brian Cox (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Battle for Terra), a retired Russian agent who longs for the old days of killing people for fun. Actually, they all kinda long for the old days, when you knew who were the bad guys and who weren’t, as becomes kinda urgent, when the ultimate villain reveals himself here and you’re like, Yeah, that’s so 21st century. Oh, for the Cold War, when the bad guys were honorable professional assassins who played by certain rules, instead of the psychopaths we have today.
Oh, but never mind: Red is fun. Just keep telling yourself that. It’s all just good clean fun. Not that we coudn’t use a real Bruce Willis with his smirk and Helen Mirren with her machine gun cleaning things up.
Watch Red online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.