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Kill ’em all: (l-r) Malkovich and Mirren in Red.

Get Off Our Lawn

By Shawn Stone

Red

Directed by Robert Schwentke

We’re getting the band back together,” Morgan Freeman laughs at a crucial point in the old-school actioner Red. Freeman is Joe, an ex-CIA agent/assassin/all around badass, and he’s sitting around a very elegant table in an elegant house with other retired secret-agent badasses. One of the maxims of American politics is don’t fuck with the elderly, because they vote. The lesson of this film is don’t fuck with ex-black-ops agents who’ve managed to live to retirement; they’ll kill you.

The trouble begins when an assassination squad is sent to eliminate Frank Moses (Bruce Willis). Frank may be living a dull life in suburban Cleveland, but, as we’re shown in the opening sequence, he keeps in shape. (And well armed.) So, of course, the would-be killers end up dead. There’s a complication, however: Frank has been romancing U.S. government clerk Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) by long-distance phone calls, so before he can “get the band back together,” he has to collect her from her Kansas City apartment to make sure she isn’t killed for associating with him.

The result is a ridiculous, yet utterly engaging situation which doesn’t intrude too much on the gunplay. Parker is charming as the giddy clerk thrust into what she sees as a romantic adventure. Willis is terrific—the best he’s been in years—underplaying beautifully, whether apologizing for almost getting his “date” killed or in full action mode, trading one-liners between body blows.

And then there’s that “band.” In addition to Freeman, there is John Malkovich as a paranoid ex-CIA killer, Helen Mirren as a stylish ex-MI-6 killer and Brian Cox as a witty Russian killer. As a bonus, there’s Karl Urban (the new McCoy in Star Trek) as a young, energetic CIA killer.

That’s a lot of variations on the same theme, admittedly, but Red pulls it off. The actors are having enough of a good time to make things enjoyable, but not so much of a good time to make the picture self-indulgent. The film provides plenty of eye candy in the form of exotic locations, from the aforementioned Cleveland and Kansas City to New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and (in the films wonderfully stupid postscript) a former Soviet satellite.

The original graphic novel didn’t have much of a plot, but the movie adds villains in high places both entertaining (Richard Dreyfuss doing his Dick Cheney shtick again, a la W) and pointless (Julian McMahon being ineffectually evil again, a la Fantastic Four). But the plot never derails what is a stylish exercise in blow ’em up entertainment.

Because really, who can resist Helen Mirren with an automatic weapon?


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