When you see Helen Mirren’s name in the credits of a comic book adaptation you know that either hell has frozen over or you’re in for a pretty good bit of cartoony fun. Luckily it isn’t time for Old Scratch to buy a parka. Mirren stars in “Red”—an acronym for Retired, Extremely Dangerous—joining an all star cast of grey power actors like Bruce Willis (who would likely be grey if he had hair), Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich in a dramatization of a three-issue comic book mini-series about retired CIA agents called back into duty.
Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is retired and bored. Padding around his comfortable suburban home he carries on a phone relationship with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a clerk at Social Security. Their flirtation, however, goes to a whole new level when Frank’s home is invaded by some very bad men with some very large guns. He dispatches them, then realizes that not only is he a target, but very likely so is Sarah, the only person he ever talks to on the phone. They’ve never met face to face, so he travels to Kansas City, kidnaps her (for her own safety, of course) and embarks on a truth seeking mission that will reunite him with his old CIA workmates (Mirren, Morgan and Maklovich), uncover a war crime and a plot that leads to the very upper echelons of power.
“Red” serves up a clever mix of one-liners—“I miss the old days,” says Ivan Simano (Brian Cox), “I haven’t killed anyone in years.”—and action with a chaser of Geritol. We’re used to seeing Willis do action, so that’s not much of a stretch, but it’s a hoot to see his co-stars play against type. Malkovich’s paranoid (and rightly so) weapons expert, Mirren’s mild-mannered assassin (“I kill people, dear.”) and Morgan Freeman’s deadly intelligence officer are old timers, but unlike other lame retiree movies like “The Crew” (which starred “Red” bad guy Richard Dreyfuss) “Red” proves these grandparents don’t need Red Bull to be Red—Retired, Extremely Dangerous.
In the supporting cast Mary Louise Parker as Sarah, the clerk who finds she enjoys the life of danger Frank offers up, is a livewire. Parker takes a role that could easily have been played as the hysterical girlfriend cliché, puts a spin on it and very nearly walks away with the whole movie. Also strong is Karl Urban as an up-and-coming CIA black ops agent. He’s a family man and killer and is an effective foil for Willis and company.
“Red” isn’t great art, but it is a lot of fun and worth it to see tough guy Willis tucked in bed reading a romance novel called “Love’s Savage Secret.”