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