‘Dirty half-dozen’

A top-flight crew of actors has fun blowing up stuff

Helen Mirren and John Malkovich play spies who’ve come out of retirement to kick some ass.

Helen Mirren and John Malkovich play spies who’ve come out of retirement to kick some ass.

Starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Mary-Louise Parker. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7 and Tinseltown. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

This farcical action/adventure flick presents itself as a frolicsome playpen for grizzled movie actors, middle-aged and older. It refuses to take itself seriously and, more than a little disingenuously, invites us to join in on the supposed fun of doing just that.

Taking off from Warren Ellis’ comic book series, RED treats its improbably battle-ready characters as live-action versions of cartoon fantasy figures. It’s rather like a big-screen CGI/video game that has been given temporary respite from soul-less technological routine by the crafty comic spirits of a half-dozen feisty performers.

You could call them the dirty half-dozen, except they’re all pretty well groomed and mostly in very good shape. And each of them brings a strong, familiar and easily recognizable presence to the proceedings. The central sextet includes Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Brian Cox (as retired but still restless “black-ops” agents) and Mary Louise Parker (as the Willis character’s newly recruited, semi-kidnapped girlfriend).

And Richard Dreyfuss and 93-year-old Ernest Borgnine make notable contributions to the rambunctiousness as well. Karl Urban and Rebecca Pidgeon have the straight-man/“villain” roles, the younger generation of CIA agents carrying out orders to dispose of these older agents who’ve been deemed RED (“Retired: Extremely Dangerous”).

Each of the central six gets a moment or two to showboat and/or shine to pleasing comic effect. The real stand-out, performance-wise, is Parker. She works a whole series of little comic wonders in the reactions of her character, a pixilated sprite, to a bizarre but not unwelcome set of misadventures.

Malkovich, meanwhile, has the most emblematic character—an extravagantly neurotic nut job, a paranoid clown who has access to an arsenal of high-tech weapons but who also clings to a cherished stuffed animal, a large pink pig that also serves as a weapons carrier.

The infantilism and the paranoia make that character a pungently absurdist paradox. But the movie’s toothless spoofing of internecine warfare and conspiracy in modern-day intelligence agencies makes no such sense, ironic or otherwise.