'RED' in a word: Loud

Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2010

J ust because you're a retired agent doesn't mean everyone in your area code won't try to shoot you dead.

That's life for the group of former government agents in the comic adaptation "RED." American, Russian, it doesn't matter what faction they carried a gun for. In the movies, violence doesn't stop when the paychecks do.

Bruce Willis heads the all-star cast as Frank Moses, a former CIA black ops agent whose lethal talents have not diminished with age. He spends his days peacefully unfulfilled with being out of the game. But he should know not to worry. How long can that last? In his world, gunmen (and cameos) pop up around every corner.

Sure enough, adventure finds him - and he's ready for it. After making short work of a hit squad come to take him out, it's time to uncover clue after bloody clue of why he's marked. Perhaps high-raking elected officials are involved.

But Moses doesn't have to go alone. A long career in black ops means plenty of retired - and very experienced -┐operatives in his rolodex. Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren provide help, moral support and lots and lots of extra rounds, just like in the good old days.

Of course, an action hero needs a love interest. Luckily, Moses has been flirting on the phone with an employee (Mary-Louise Parker) at his pension office. As soon as the bad guys show up at his door, he travels cross-country to retrieve her for her own protection, despite the fact that his wire-tapping villains probably wouldn't regard her as a threat just because they exchange some teases once a month.

This garden-variety thriller does what it wants to. It distracts for two hours and nothing more. It's not involving. There are a few chuckles every now and then. Above all, there are lots and lots of shell casings on the ground.

In fact, to sum up "RED" in one word: loud. Gunfire is heavy here, broken up only when fists offer more visual impact. Yet some of these fights are pretty entertaining, especially when Malkovich can stop a rocket in its tracks with a single bullet. Perhaps he's auditioning for another "Matrix" sequel.

There's not much more to it than that. This isn't a great action thriller, not even close. Nor is it a great comedy. Yet it achieves one thing other subpar movies fail to - it's watchable. The action is pretty entertaining now and then, and it's always nice to see veteran actors have some fun with some fast-paced material.

The real bright spots of the admission ticket are Parker and Malkovich. Parker gives some good comedy chops, something she hasn't gotten many chances to before. She perfects the scrunched face of someone who can't quite fathom how she ended up in a conspiracy game on a weekday. Malkovich has always mastered humor through temper. As a paranoid with a penchant for heavy firepower, he delights in every scene.

There are things that don't work, mostly forced points to make a comic book movie. What really doesn't work is the age discrepancies in the leads. Freeman plays on 80-year-old in the final stages of cancer. Of course that doesn't stop him from moving some muscle, but that's beside the point. Viewers are expected to take it that while he has a good 20 years on some of his teammates, they're all equally over the hill. Even though he spends his days in a rest home and Willis' are spent in a rigorous workout routine. Because they're all out of college, they're all regarded as equally "old," at least until a bad guy needs a kicking.

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