RED stands for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous,” and refers to a once-elite team of aged and variously cuddly trained killers. The comedy comes from Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner’s graphic novel for DC Comics. There is oldness even in its adolescent fixations: the soundtrack rawk throb and stunty slo-mo set pieces, the squall of semiautomatic weapons and performances.
Helen Mirren teams up with a gang of aging movie stars—Bruce Willis, for one—in RED.
Bruce Willis’ character Frank wakes up to a boring suburban life, flirting over the phone with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who administrates his pension. When a team of hitmen shows up from nowhere and shoots the ever-loving shit out of Frank’s house, he throws a few bullets in a frying pan and presto: hitmen mincemeat. Maybe this is what happens when a generation weaned on comics and Bruce Willis flix starts closing in on middle age, without ever really having grown up.
The bad guys know Frank likes Sarah, so he kidnaps her, and together they bounce around the country gathering up his old team of now-old guys. Enter Joe (Morgan Freeman), a gracious rascal; Marvin (John Malkovich), a paranoid acid-casualty; Victoria (Helen Mirren), the real reason you wanted to see this movie in the first place; and Ivan (Brian Cox), a Russian Cold Warrior who once took three bullets for Victoria. From her, in fact.
Together they trace the matter of somebody wanting Frank dead to a Dick Cheneyan Richard Dreyfuss and a web of government skullduggery. Old story. At the CIA, they get help from a record clerk played by Ernest Borgnine (old!) and resistance from a comparatively young buck played by Karl Urban—with whom Willis exchanges gunfire, fisticuffs and combative dialogue:
“Kordeski trained you?”
“I trained Kordeski.”
By now, regrettably, the movie has all but abandoned the adorably coy Parker, who, at 46, seems almost scandalously young. She enlivens the dumb fun, but the film keeps too busy playing by rote to allow that. The more RED winks at the audience, the more the wink starts to seem like a geriatric tremor. It’s hard not to wrinkle your nose at the dense and dusty perfume of its atmosphere. It’s hard to be polite when offered a sampling from its bowl of fossilized hard candy.
The screenwriters are Jon and Erich Hoeber, who before this also adapted the graphic novel Whiteout and after this adapted the board game Battleship. The director is Robert Schwentke, who before this made The Time Traveler’s Wife. The draw is Mirren, who after this will move on to late Shakespeare. Isn’t the movie business weird? Was it better in the old days?