Review: Red is Fully Amusing, Less Filling

The thing about Red, the thing to keep in mind, is that it's just a playful romp. Madcap, zany, a tiny bit sentimental, and featuring the very latest in cartoon-style violence, it's a film you can appreciate if you've grown fond of or up with Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, or John Malkovich (of Being John Malkovich). This isn't a particularly important film, and it's a shame it wasn't released when the sun was still shining, but fun with the C.I.A. and Mary-Louise Parker? There are worse options.

The story, stop me if you've heard this before, is the tale of retired C.I.A. agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) wasting away, his only solace coming from phone conversations with faraway government employee Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker). She works at the place where pensions are administered from, for argument's sake we'll call it the Department of Pensions, and the pair often find themselves discussing romance novels and the dreamy places she'd like to visit. Then Frank hangs up, looks wistfully off into the distance, and dreams of a life where he has some company. Clearly intelligence work comes with a heavy personal price.

But a storm is a brewin'! Unbeknownst to Frank, he's somehow become the target of a "wet team" wherein the fellas from, for argument's sake, The Department of Assassins, try to kill him. Luckily, Frank has kept his skills sharp, and so the movie is more than half an hour long. Frank goes on the run, enlisting the support of his former C.I.A. buddies (Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren). He also pulls Sarah into the web of insanity as he knows she's a target now too, a byproduct of chatting on the phone with him.

What really works for Red is our shared history with the actors involved. I think most of us, at this point, have a soft place in our heart for the for leads, and Mary-Louise Parker's Weeds and West Wing work finds her rapidly establishing a foothold in our collective pop culture consciousness.

What doesn't work is the largely fleeting nature of the work. To call it "soft" would be an insult to freshly made croissants, this is a film you'll see and enjoy but forget soon thereafter. Still, likable counts for something, and the cast is winning. It's a quirky little comedy, it largely avoids real-world problems, and it's briskly paced. If you're looking for a quick respite give it a whirl.

Grade: B-