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The action flatlines, but the characters make RED a lively, mildly entertaining diversion.

Bite the Bullet

Helen Mirren plants, bakes, and marauds
Helen Mirren plants, bakes, and marauds

RED begins with bullets flying and ends with bullets flying. In between, a lot of bullets zing around. So many bullets blast across the screen, RED makes The Boondock Saints look like Terms of Endearment.

The punchline, such as it is, is that the vast majority of those bullets are dished out by a bunch of geezers.

And it’s all because somebody wants Frank Moses dead. In his deep, mysterious past Frank was a wiz-bang man of action who toppled governments. He must also own stock in duct tape companies, because he knows how to put the stuff to good use.

Given the setup, it’s a shame nobody makes a crack about Frank being as old as Moses. Bruce Willis, hot on the heels of his cameo in The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone’s own reunion of old-school heroes, plays Moses, but the title RED has nothing to do with parting the Red Sea. It stands for Retired and Extremely Dangerous.

Yeah, Baby, yeah!

Frank treks across the country trying to get to the bottom of why people are out to get him. Along the way, he picks up Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker, TV’s Weeds), a woman from the government pension office. He’s been courting her long distance – this tough-as-nails former special ops agent is actually all mushy inside, going so far as to read the trashy romance novels Sarah entertains herself with so he can have something in common with her.

Unfortunately for Frank, their first in-person encounter is more fatal than attraction.

Bucket List

In order to save his own skin, Frank gets his old band together. They’re rock stars of chaos and carnage, but for these assassins and undercover agents it’s both the years and the mileage that’s been catching up with them.

To that end, Morgan Freeman (Invictus) is relegated to a small role as an 80-year-old nursing home resident with Stage IV liver cancer. It’s one of the movie’s bigger disappointments that Freeman really doesn’t have much of a role.

There’s also Helen Mirren (State of Play) as Victoria, a woman who bides her time baking and planting, but she also manages to slip in the occasional odd contract on the side. At one point she politely tells Sarah, “I kill people, dear.”

The one furthest off the deep end is Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich, Jonah Hex). Given a daily dose of LSD for 11 years as part of a government experiment, he’s a couple cards short of a full deck and loaded with conspiracy theories.

Throw in a Russian spy named Ivan (Brian Cox, Red Eye), who also happens to have an unflagging crush on Victoria, even though he has bullet wounds that say he should look elsewhere for love, and this collective of colorful cold-blooded killers are game for entertaining. It’s just a shame about the execution.

Bloodshot

RED has some good ideas for action sequences, but the action comes across as stilted and decidedly unexciting.

In particular, there’s one goofball confrontation in which Marvin has a showdown with a female agent. He pulls out his gun. She pulls out her missile launcher. In a scene worthy of a Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez movie, Marvin’s bullet makes perfect contact with the tip of the missile and it explodes midflight, burning up all of the surroundings. But there’s Marvin, inexplicably standing in the center of the devastation, surrounded by flames and completely unscathed. Funny? Only sorta.

Later on, a nice, dramatic setup involves William Cooper (Karl Urban, Star Trek), a CIA agent in hot pursuit of Frank. At one point William is seen checking in on his sleeping children before he heads out on his mission. The tables turn when Frank calls William from the Cooper residence and threatens to harm the agent’s family if the CIA hurts Sarah, who’s being held for interrogation.

The tension ratchets up calmly and cooly. Then it fizzles in favor of more blazing bullets.

That’s the modus operandi of RED. Robert Schentke, the director of Flightplan, simply guides the movie through a series of fits and starts, showing more confidence in the disarming comedy than the alarming action.

Love’s Savage Secret

Humorous as it is, it’s a sign of these cynical times when things take an unsavory turn as the storyline shifts gears and Frank hatches a plan to assassinate Robert Stanton, the vice president of the United States (Julian McMahon, Fantastic Four). Turns out the VP wants to clean up his image by taking out those who know him – and his war crimes – too well. It’d be nice to run a clean, smooth presidential campaign, after all.

That’s a sketchy, thin premise. More than likely, if Frank wanted to stir the waters, he would’ve done so while Stanton was running for VP.

But to analyze plot points like that in a movie like this is futile.

The point is to entertain, and RED, which is based on a graphic novel, succeeds at that task thanks to the appealing, veteran cast.

RED gets a spike of goodwill thanks to a nice little cameo by 93-year-old Ernest Borgnine (yep, the star of McHale’s Navy). He’s been in the entertainment business longer than many of his co-stars have been alive.

The biggest treat, though, is getting to watch red-hot Mary-Louise Parker strut her comedic stuff. She’s 46, but she looks like she’s going on 20.