Oct 19 2010 Fulham Chronicle
Willis, Freeman, Malkovich and Mirren are the retired agents back on the job in action romp Red, writes DAMON SMITH
AN AWARD-WINNING A-list cast and well judged, tongue-in-cheek humour enliven Robert Schwentke's explosive action comedy, based on the comic series by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner.
Embracing the air of preposterousness that blows through every frame, Red - an acronym for Retired, Extremely Dangerous - pits a team of retired CIA agents against the government that once employed them to kill.
The veterans might be getting on, but they certainly haven't lost the killer instinct.
When a young female assassin dares to insult one of the gang - "She called me an old man!" he gasps - he shows the newcomer that her state-of-the-art rocket launcher is no match for his old-fashioned revolver.
Ernest Borgnine, now 93-years-old and still with a twinkle in his eye, enjoys a cameo as the keeper of the records back at CIA headquarters.
They don't make 'em like they used to.
Former Black Ops agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) has retired from active duty and now carves out a mundane existence in suburbia, where the highlight of his day is flirting on the phone with customer services agent Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker).
When a gun-toting death squad razes his home, Frank goes on the run with Sarah and heads to Louisiana to reunite with old friend Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), then on to a secret bunker to re-enlist conspiracy theorist Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich).
As the body count rises, the former agents and Sarah add sniper Victoria (Helen Mirren) to their ranks and unravel the mystery of an old mission in Guatemala.
Meanwhile, CIA handler Cynthia Wilkes (Rebecca Pidgeon) orders her best man, William Cooper (Karl Urban), to find the old timers and retire them permanently.
Betrayed by their country, the veterans turn to Cold War enemy, Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox), who has schematics of CIA HQ and can help them break in.
Red is a fast-paced romp that severs sinewy ties to realism early on and once we suspend our disbelief and put our brains into neutral, Schwentke's film is a lot of fun.
Where else could you see Willis step out of the door of his car as it spins through 360 degrees and keep walking, gun a-blazing, as the back end of the vehicle skims round neatly behind him?
There's great rapport between co-stars, like when Frank turns up at Joe's nursing home and asks why he has suddenly been marked for death.
"Vietnam, Afghanistan, Green Springs Rest Home. Go figure!" retorts his friend dryly.
Cast against type, Malkovich and Mirren are clearly having a ball, the latter telling Sarah in no uncertain terms: "If you break (Frank's) heart, I'll kill you then bury your body in the woods."
Parallel romantic subplots are fluffy nonsense - a concession to female audiences - but competently handled.