(Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker, et al / PG-13 / 96 mins)
Overview: A group of former government assassins fights back against the CIA after they're targeted for knowing too much in this adaptation of Warren Ellis' acclaimed DC Comics graphic novels. Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) used to be a hired gun for the CIA. Along with Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich), and Victoria (Helen Mirren), Frank's specialty was carrying out contracts that the government didn't want the public to know about. These days, Frank and his old gang are all retired, but the powers that be are still concerned that they know too much, and dispatch a team of top assassins to ensure their silence.
Verdict: I can't say I've warmed much to Bruce Willis films before now. I went to see RED with no expectations, and came out thoroughly cheered.
Willis is Frank, a retired CIA 'black ops' agent whose main diversion is serious telephone flirting with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) a young woman in Kansas City who handles his pension cheques. She reads romance novels, he is trying to grow an avocado tree by suspending the seed in a glass of water. It's not quite enough for either of them, but just as he risks making a real date, quite a lot of men in balaclavas break in to his house and try to take him out with extreme force.
The volume of gunfire in this quiet suburban street was so over the top I started snorting. Quietly snorting, though I could have snorted quite loudly, the soundtrack was so deafening.
Ludicrously over the top, I thought. What is it with American cinema and extreme firepower these days?
Then I realised it was intentionally ludicrously over the top. And the film zipped along, as Willis Frank Moses finds his girl Sarah, kidnaps her (for her own safety of course) and looks up the first of a number of retired buddies to enlist their help.
Why is his former employer, the CIA, trying to rub him out? Moses and Sarah look up an old buddy, Joe (Morgan Freeman), and gradually enlist others to help them find the bad guys systematically eliminating people on a secret list. Most of them are classified RED. Meaning, Retired, Extremely Dangerous.
The thing to know about RED is that it is based on a DC comic book series created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. Comic books are often not particularly comic -- this film adaptation is. German-born Robert Schwentke does a fine job with a screenplay by brothers John and Eric Hoebner, and it's realised, with some relish, by Mary-Louise Parker as Sarah in the standard role of plucky but admiring girl, and a cast of veterans.
John Malkovich is a special joy as Marvin, an extremely paranoid veteran-turned-survivalist. Brian Cox makes a delicious Russian ring-in; and Helen Mirren, elegant as ever in cardigans and couture, manages to look both steely and demure, wielding very large automatic weapons. One could be cynical and say this is action comedy for the grey and lavender demographic. Other filmmakers have tried this too.
But the film is too much fun to dismiss. There is a mystery for me though. How does Bruce Willis manage to wake up in his own bed clean-shaven on chin and cheeks as well as head? He looks strangely like Lothar, Mandrake's Giant Nubian Servant. Is there some new depilatory abroad in Hollywood? Please somebody advise.
Meanwhile, go treat yourself.