With Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language. 111 minutes.
There is a certain amount of fun seeing veteran actors come out to play parts for which they might be considered past their prime. “Space Cowboys” and “The Expendables” are two such examples of “old timers” showing they still have what it takes. RED takes a bunch of ex-CIA agents and puts them into the thick of a rogue government operation. Don’t sweat the details. That’s not what the movie is about.
Bruce Willis, who had a cameo in “The Expendables,” is now center stage as Frank Moses. He is classified as “R.E.D.” which we’re told stands for “retired, extremely dangerous.” At the moment he’s not feeling too dangerous. In fact, he putters aimlessly around his empty house with the only excitement his phone conversations with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), the government bureaucrat responsible for administering his retirement benefits. He looks for any excuse to call, as it’s the only part of the day where he has any human interaction.
For reasons that really don’t matter, covert forces come to shoot up Frank’s house and take him out (and not for coffee). Suddenly, he’s on the run and, since Sarah is his only current contact, she is now along for the ride. Soon, they’re meeting with other ex-agents, each odder than the next. Marvin (John Malkovich) is so paranoid, for example, that he has a fake house built to serve as a decoy for where he actually hides out. Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren join the fun, the latter casually explaining to Sarah that when someone refers to her “wet work” it means she kills people. Other familiar faces turn up as well, perhaps none more surprising than 93-year-old Ernest Borgnine, as the keeper of the secret-secret CIA records.
There is a lot of shooting and explosions, this being an action film, but there’s also some laughs as the aging spies show they still have what it takes in their showdown with the film’s villains, led by Rebecca Pidgeon and Richard Dreyfuss. This is not a movie likely to be discussed at Oscar time in spite of the presence of past winners including Mirren, Morgan, Borgnine and Dreyfuss, but it’s nice to see they don’t take themselves too seriously.
The film doesn’t take itself too seriously either. At the end we get a set up for what seems likely to be an intended sequel, and the film then – in a few quick strokes – gives us that subsequent adventure. It’s all a big goof, but it holds together so that you can enjoy the ride rather than wonder if it will ever end. Like “The Expendables,” “RED” wants to extend the shelf life of action stars, in this case Willis, while adding a touch of class with the top notch cast. If you can’t see why that might be fun, you should probably give this a pass.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.