This team of top-flight actors can't quite pull off the job.
The action farce "Red" proves humorist P.J. O'Rourke's maxim, "age and guile beat youth, innocence and a bad haircut." In this case, age not only beats youth, but it uses Tasers, improvised explosives and rocket-propelled grenades.
Bruce Willis stars as an out-to-pasture secret agent who finds himself and a dozen fellow retirees on an assassination list. The tone is light and larky as he assembles a team of old spooks to turn the tables on their would-be executioners. But the film never achieves liftoff. It is most interesting as a spoofy comment on aging-boomer films like "The Expendables" or the arthritic Indiana Jones series. It's halfway between comedy and action, and it doesn't quite work as either.
Don't fault the cast. Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker, as Willis' allies, are very assured in the way they hit their laugh lines, and Willis is a master of droll nonchalance.
And there are good straight-man turns by Karl Urban as a by-the-book CIA superagent, Rebecca Pidgeon as his starchy chief and Richard Dreyfuss as a nefarious businessman.
But the jokes consistently misfire. Parker plays Willis' government pension clerk, whom he has been shyly wooing by phone. She comes along for the ride, sort of kidnapped, as he hops around the country shooting people. She's supposed to be exhilarated by this escape from her cubicle. OK, maybe. But she's unbelievably eager to put herself in the line of fire. When they break into CIA headquarters on a sabotage mission, she enthusiastically asks, "What's the punishment for what we're about to do?" Told that it's death, she exults, "Awesome!" And that dud is the second best joke in the hopper.
The film's downfall is the facile screenplay by Jon and Erich Hoeber. The premise -- old pros can outwit whippersnappers -- is the film's one and only punch line. It goes on too long and the script is shaped to accommodate repetitive action-movie set pieces. The film takes place in a make-believe world where hit squads can shoot thousands of rounds of ammunition on a suburban street at midnight and nobody wakes up. There's always something happening but nothing to occupy your mind.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186