RED is essentially a 111-minute excuse to give Helen Mirren a machine gun. In that, it succeeds, but any other success comes purely from the game cast of veterans, all of whom play winking, quotation-mark versions of characters they’ve played — this time, armed to the teeth. Bruce Willis, accessorized with a perpetual smirk, is Frank Moses, a retired CIA operative who finds a life devoid of forced coups and assassinations to be mind-numbingly routine. He’s soon forced to retire from retirement when his stultifying idyll is interrupted by a task force sent to kill him. Determined to find out why his former employer wants him dead, Moses goes on a cross-country trip to round up the rest of the geriatric gun-toting gang: Morgan Freeman’s wise and wizened buddy, John Malkovich’s lovably psychotic paranoiac, and Mirren’s grand dame with a Kalashnikov. Whatever scenery is left to chew once Malkovich is done, Brian Cox washes down with a swig of vodka as a Cold War relic who has since warmed to his capitalist enemies.
This team, with an assist from Mary-Louise Parker as Moses’ initially unwilling love-interest, give it their all, so delighted in each other’s company that they seem to overlook the hackneyed and hole-riddled plot. Their enthusiasm helps make it easier for us to ignore these flaws, but by the time the film reaches its shrug of a climax, it’s evident just how hard the cast has been working to make something so stale seem fresh. Unfortunately, while RED’s stars may have gotten better with age, its many clichés have not. C+