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Hollywood Product: RED

Old-school spies could use some new tricks in RED



GENRE: Generic action-romance

THE PITCH: 55 is the new 007 when Bruce Willis plays retired covert operative Frank Moses — designated as "Retired, Extremely Dangerous," or "RED" — who reunites with his old cohorts from either side of the iron curtain (including Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Brian Cox and the scene-stealing Helen Mirren) to unravel a murderous conspiracy.

MONEY SHOTS: Frank heats up bullets on a griddle to ambush faceless assassins, leading to a particularly cool bullet-POV shot. Gun blazing, Frank steps out of a car in mid-skid, and the back bumper barely brushes his pants. Frank has a high-impact office fight scene with brutal but conscientious spy-catcher (Karl Urban). Helen Mirren blasts away with a Rambo-size machine gun. The final shot delivers an amusingly over-the-top sight gag.

BEST LINE: "I was hoping not to be kidnapped. Or drugged. I was hoping that you'd have hair," complains Sarah, Frank's potential girlfriend who gets dragged along for the cloak-and-dagger hijinks.

WORST LINE: "Why? 'Cause I'm a bad guy?" Richard Dreyfuss sneers as practically a caricature of a spy thriller bad guy. Less egregious is the way Malkovich oversells the line "I am getting the pig!" as if it's the new "Show me the money!"

FASHION STATEMENTS: Malkovich, as an LSD-addled head case, first appears in elaborate underbrush camouflage. Freeman first appears as a retirement-home resident in a velour tracksuit, but later goes incognito as a foreign dignitary in a military outfit worthy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Mirren always looks resplendent, whether in her fur-trimmed snowy weather sniper outfit or a fancy white gown for a campaign fundraiser.

BODY COUNT: At least a dozen, assuming all the assassins died in the exploding house early on. In a dockside shoot-out, two bad guys get exploded with grenades, and Malkovich stops an anti-aircraft missile with a well-aimed bullet.

RETIRE THIS SHOT: Director Robert Schwentke signals the major changes of location with kitschy postcards like "Welcome To Pensacola" (which features little animated alligators).

RED AS LOCAL COLOR: The film is based on the DC Comics' graphic novel written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Atlanta's Cully Hamner.

CAMEO: A 93 year-old Ernest Borgnine has a couple of pleasantly crusty scenes as a records-keeper, suggesting that he could be the next Betty White, only male.

AS DIFFERENT AS KNIGHT AND DAY: In RED a charming, charismatic spy kidnaps, drugs and binds an ordinary woman who eventually turns out to be a promising amateur in battling turncoat American spies. The Mary-Louise Parker subplot almost exactly follows the primary plot of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz's strained action-comedy Knight and Day. Parker's role feels more superfluous, but she turns a nothing role into a comedic tour de force.

THE BOTTOM LINE: For about an hour, RED delivers snappy performances and flashy action scenes, and features some cozy, chummy moments, such as Frank and his Russian counterpart swapping defection stories from back in the day. But the film doesn't build to anything surprising or interesting and the energy dissipates drastically. The pleasures of Mirren and massive weapons only take you so far.

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Official Site:

Director: Robert Schwentke

Writer: Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber

Producer: Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian

Cast: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, Mary-Louise Parker, Brian Cox, Julian McMahon and Richard Dreyfuss

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