There's nothing in Red that you haven't seen before, in terms of gunfights, martial arts, double-crosses and the like.
And yet one should never underestimate the pleasures to be had from an action film written by and starring professionals, who know what they're doing and don't miss a trick. It's not that Red is a breakthrough or a game-changer in any way -- it's just a highly enjoyable comic action-thriller with a sense of humor about itself.
Did I say this was nothing you hadn't seen before? Indeed, you've seen it fairly recently. In many ways, Red mimics two of last summer's hits: The Expendables and Tom Cruise's Knight and Day, the latter more than the former.
The teaming of a group of aging stars as action heroes? Well, they don't get much classier than the one Bruce Willis assembles in Red: two Oscar winners (Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren) and an Oscar nominee (John Malkovich). Plus Oscar-winners Richard Dreyfuss and Ernest Borgnine in smaller roles, Brian Cox, Julian McMahon and Karl Urban. Oh yeah, and Mary-Louise Parker.
Parker is what brings Knight and Day to mind. She plays a federal pension employee in Kansas City, who has become the romantic daydream of a retired CIA agent, Frank Moses (Willis). They chat on the phone on a regular basis about his missing pension checks, mostly because he likes her voice and wants someone to talk to. But when a hit squad shows up at Moses' house, he dispatches them, then decides that, probably, they're going after everyone he knows -- including Parker's low-level clerk, Sarah.
So he snatches her from her house in Kansas City -- against her will -- and takes her on the road, eventually convincing her that her life is in danger and he's her only hope -- sort of like Cruise and Cameron Diaz in K&D. He hops around the U.S., dropping in on his other retired buddies, including Joe (Freeman), Marvin (Malkovich) and Victoria (Mirren) -- as well as an old Russian nemesis, Ivan (Cox).
The plot, such as it is, involves Moses and his crew trying to figure out why they've been marked for death. It's a complicated story that takes them from the Everglades to a break-in at the most secure section of CIA headquarters in Virginia, from New York to Chicago and beyond. Each stop provides bits of character development and exchanges of tangy dialogue.
That dialogue, of course, is bantered between old pros who know how to spin the simplest lines to make them funny and meaningful, even when they don't mean much of anything.