“Hope I die before I get old.”
— The Who, “My Generation”
Frank Moses is a fairly typical retiree. He goes about his day puttering around his suburban home and he fills the lonely hours by reading and striking up a blossoming telephone relationship with the woman responsible for administering his pension checks.
We know this monotony won’t last long though because Frank is played by Bruce Willis, and where Willis goes explosions and carnage are sure to follow. It turns out that Frank is a retired CIA operative and when a team of dudes with machine guns and body armor show up at his house to do him in, he is even less surprised than we are. This is the setup for the movie “Red,” a flick based on a comic book that turns out to be way more fun than it probably has any right to be.
After taking out his assassins, Frank goes on the run, first rushing to collect Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the nice woman from the pension office whose seemingly harmless flirtations with Frank have put her in mortal danger.
Frank and Sarah then bounce around the country reconnecting with Frank’s trusted former colleagues, an elderly group that is much more comfortable firing rocket launchers and uncovering international conspiracies than collecting Social Security or getting the early-bird special at the Sizzler.
As the movie unfolds, we are subjected to a plot that is as familiar as it is ridiculous, but none of that really matters as “Red” soars, thanks to some lively pacing, punchy dialogue, and a brilliant ensemble cast.
First on the list is intelligence expert Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), who is quietly wasting away in a retirement home in New Orleans when Frank tracks him down. Freeman is having such a good time in the movie he can barely keep the grin off of his face, of course, he’s probably just relieved he didn’t have to do any voice-over narration. Plus the dude can still pull off a black leather jacket.
Comic relief comes in the form of Marvin Boggs as played by John Malkovich. Marvin is unhinged, paranoid, and right up Malkovich’s alley. He and Willis have great comedic timing and it is a hoot to watch them play off of each other. If they had a buddy-cop TV show, it would immediately become my favorite thing on television.
Rounding out the cast are Brian Cox, who plays a retired KGB agent and just might be the most consistently dependable character actor in the business, and Helen Mirren as MI6’s once most formidable assassin.
Bond’s got nothing on her as this grande ol’ dame handles a variety of assault weapons while putting the sexy back in senior citizen. OK, so maybe it wasn’t there, to begin with, but it sure is now. Well done, Helen Mirren.
Ernest Borgnine even shows up in a nice little turn as a CIA records keeper. The 93-year-old actor doesn’t get to kill anybody, but cut the guy some slack; he won an Academy Award for his lamentations about being middle-aged and past his prime in “Marty,” and that was 55 years ago! We should all be so lucky.
German director Robert Schwetke deserves a lot of credit for keeping the movie light and bouncy, while not being overwhelmed by the cast’s roughly 37,000 years of combined movie-making experience.
At first glance, the novelty of “Red” seems to be “Hey! It’s old people kicking butt!” In reality, it works because those old people are exceptional actors and they all seem to be having an absolute blast. Think of it like a silver-haired “Ocean’s 11” or an invitation to a really great cocktail party. Well, a cocktail party with guns and explosions and maybe just a little Metamucil, cause even super spies gotta to stay regular.
“Red” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language.