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"Red" poster

RED: Film Review

7:19 PM PDT 10/12/2010 by John DeFore

The Bottom Line

Retired-spy action comedy keeps the goofiness in check.

Smirks meet semi-automatics in "Red," a comics-derived action flick that offers self-conscious casting and a wink here and there without feeling as jokey as, say, "Knight and Day."

Although tailor-made for genre fans, it benefits from flavors of humor and romance that keep its appeal from being fanboy-only.

The pic makes the most of its premise, in which valuable CIA operatives must return to action after having settled, or not, into various stages of retirement. Some take to it comically (Morgan Freeman's Joe, subversive in an old-age home) and some pragmatically, while Bruce Willis' Frank sits alone in intrigue-free suburbia, making up reasons to call a help-desk operator (Mary-Louise Parker) whose sassy-sweet voice has become the entirety of his social life.

Willis isn't bored for long, of course: Assassins with unknown motives force him to go on the run, kidnap Parker for her own safety and round up old colleagues to figure out who's trying to wipe them out. But those wry, almost poignant opening scenes make up for the occasional generic moments to come.

Screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber try to put a spin on this not-unfamiliar spy-vs.-spy stuff -- beyond the novelty that came straight from the comic -- and director Robert Schwentke delivers the requisite action without trying to reinvent the wheel.

But what keeps the movie going is the gameness of the cast, some of whom strike a perfect balance between self-consciousness and credulity. Willis might benefit the most, in a part other films have tried and often failed to craft for him, and Parker gives the movie more than she gets: When she finally accepts having been dragged into this mess, her character embraces the danger with a flirtatious relish that reminds us that this is all supposed to be fun.

Even the more cartoonish performances, like John Malkovich's acid-damaged paranoiac, fit the movie's vision of the vanished, wild-and-woolly heyday of spycraft. The actual mechanics of the plot might eventually get so convoluted they have to be accepted on faith, but the spirit of "Red" rarely falters.