Review: 'Red'

(Three stars)

If you're looking at your local multiplex today for the "Red" that won Best Play at this year's Tony Awards, you're going to wind up very confused. The movie "Red" isn't an intense, complex meditation on the relationship between an artist and his art; rather, it's a lighthearted shoot-'em-up based on a comic book.

But before you dismiss it, consider this: "Red" stars four Oscar-winning actors. It's not every day that you're able to use "Helen Mirren" and "heavy artillery" in the same sentence, but "Red" gives you the opportunity. Very loosely adapted from the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, "Red" stars Bruce Willis as Frank Moses, a retired CIA black ops agent with a fearsome reputation. Of course, news of Frank's skills haven't reached his suburban neighbors or Sarah Ross (Tony winner Mary-Louise Parker), the Social Security office cubicle worker he's taken to chatting up over the phone.

Frank's quiet life doesn't last long: His plan to travel to Kansas City to meet up with Sarah hits a snag when armed commandos attempt to kill him. For Sarah's safety, he'll have to abduct her and keep her in line while looking up old friends also classified as "RED": "Retired -- Extremely Dangerous." What we have here is a two-joke premise: "Danger man" hero takes innocent female on the ride of her life, and old folks do the darndest things. But when the comically romantic couple is Willis and Parker, and the retirees include Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich, well, you've got yourself a movie, my friend.

Robert Schwentke ("The Time Traveler's Wife") gives the picture stylish direction, with swirling camera moves and an ear for comic rhythms. The script has decent comic snap and, of course, stuff blows up real good. But the show here is in the casting, which calls up a deep bench of acting talent. As an active CIA agent on the hunt, Karl Urban ("Star Trek") makes a strong foil for Frank, but the real baddie turns out to be Richard Dreyfuss. Ernest Borgnine also turns up, as do Brian Cox, James Remar and Rebecca Pidgeon.

It all equates to a couple of hours of crowd-pleasing nonsense. There's some "last chance" romance, a familiar critique of CIA corruption, sympathy for the spy (the first question when a guest arrives is "Are you here to kill me?") and a consideration of the ol' "we're not dead yet" retirement theme. Frank states the obvious: "With age comes a certain perspective." But let's be honest, "Red" is about seeing Mirren wielding a sniper rifle and Malkovich acting all kinds of nutty as a character who was given "daily doses of LSD for 11 years" (the other side of the joke being that he's always right: You're not paranoid if they're actually out to get you).

I won't say you haven't lived until you see John Malkovich as a retired CIA agent, sadly dangling a stuffed pig from his hand, but I will say it brightened up my day.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language. 1 hour, 51 minutes.

— Peter Canavese

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