RED review

Every now and then, along comes a film where it's clear the stars have just done it for the money. And RED – the title stands for Retired, Extremely Dangerous – is one such film. But there's nothing wrong with that; like the rest of us, Hollywood stars have to plan for their retirements, and as long as they have a bit of fun along the way, as they clearly do in RED, the we can't begrudge them an occasional film that makes you go "meh".

Based on the DC Comics graphic novel of the same name, RED tells the story of Frank Moses, a retired black-ops CIA agent who suddenly finds himself targeted for assassination. How does he find this out? When his suburban home in Cleveland, Ohio, is attacked one night by a horde of black-clad, masked "wetwork" agents wiedling machine guns, who proceed to shoot the shit out of his house. While not one neighbour bats an eyelid. Man, they must all be heavy sleepers in Cleveland.

After cleverly despatching the home invaders (Moses may be retired, but not senile) he hits the road and heads to Kansas City, where he kidnaps Sarah Ross (Parker) – for, he claims, her own protection. She works as a phone operator at the government agency that issues his pension cheques, and they talk (and flirt) on a regular basis. Yes, dragging Sarah into the middle of this makes no sense at all, but Parker is so much fun to watch that you don't really care.

Also dragged into the middle of things are Malkovich, Freeman and Mirren, all Frank's former CIA coworkers, all RED and also all being targeted for permanent retirement. And who's out to get them? Current CIA operative William Cooper (Urban) and his boss Cynthia Wilkes (Pidgeon). Why does the CIA want them dead? It's never really made all that clear, but it's something to do with events that took place years before in Guatemala, and also involve the US vice-president Robert Stanton (McMahon) and a millionaire arms dealer named Alexander Dunning (Dreyfuss). Also popping up at various points are Brian Cox as a former Russian spy named Ivan (they're always named Ivan, aren't they?) and Ernest Borgnine as a CIA records keeper.

It's all complete and utter nonsense, and the plot is so full of holes that you could make an Aero bar out of it. But that doesn't matter a bit, because it's just so much fun to see this cast mucking around on the screen, having a blast (so to speak). And when you consider the ages of the cast involved – Willis is 55, Mirren is 65, Malkovich, 56, Freeman, 73 (playing an 80-year-old!), Dreyfuss, 62, Cox, 64 and Borgnine an incredible 93 – it's surprising that many of them are still working, let alone making action films. The rest of the main stars – Parker at 46, McMahon, 42 and Urban, 38 – are utter babes in comparison.

RED has got plenty of gun-toting action, some decent laughs and a touch of romance. But it tends to lose its way a little in the second half, as the plot becomes more complicated (and, in some places, ludicrous). But with a stellar cast of golden oldies – Helen Mirren firing bloody big guns? Yes please! – RED is perfectly decent, if utterly disposable, popcorn entertainment.


RED London press conference

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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