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Red: movie review

Helen Mirren stars as an aging action hero in 'Red.'

By Peter RainerFilm Critic / October 15, 2010

In this publicity image released by Summit Entertainment, Helen Mirren is shown in a scene from, "Red."

Frank Masi/Summit Entertainment/AP


If you're like me, you'll put up with a lot of malarkey in a movie just to see Helen Mirren wielding a semiautomatic weapon. You may argue that Helen Mirren wielding a semiautomatic weapon is also malarkey. Maybe so, but malarkey doesn't get any better.

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Mirren is one of several overqualified actors who are featured in the graphic-novel-derived, comic action escapade "RED," and she doesn't appear until well into the movie. Until then, we have to satisfy ourselves with a motley crew of oddball luminaries, including Bruce Willis, over-underacting as former black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses, and John Malkovich, under-overacting as ex-CIA loon Marvin Boggs.

Retired Frank has been living a gratifyingly boring and solitary life in the burbs when his home is inexplicably invaded by a high-tech hit squad, which he methodically dispatches. Up until this point he's been periodically amusing himself flirting on the phone with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the administrator of his pension checks.

On the pretext of a business trip, he arranges a blind date with her. In the wake of the attack, fearing she may also be implicated, Frank converts the date into a kidnapping. Sarah complains, but not too convincingly. Frank, is, after all, more exciting than the losers she's been hooking up with.

Besides Frank, several other top CIA agents, all retired, are also being targeted by, as is soon revealed, their former employer. (The film's title is an acronym for "retired, extremely dangerous.") Joe (Morgan Freeman), terminally ill but still game, is living in a nursing home; Malkovich's Marvin, the unwitting recipient of long-ago LSD experiments conducted by the CIA, stows himself in a camouflaged bunker; Mirren's Victoria, looking like a cross between Martha Stewart and Margaret Thatcher, has a queenly decorum.

None are happy marking time. When the attacks begin, they swing into action with Frank, and they love every minute of it. We are encouraged to love every minute of it, too.

This wasn't quite the case with me. I liked every 20 minutes of it. Director Robert Schwentke never strikes a comfortable balance between comedy and action. That first home invasion, for example, is shot like a routine thriller sequence, but it's bookended by goofiness. His mistake was in trying to strike a balance in the first place.