Oh, that Red was the giddy romp it might have been, it promises to be or it thinks it is.
It has the best cast of any action comedy movie, maybe ever: four Oscar winners plus Bruce Willis. But despite that and a winning concept — that somebody, maybe in government, is trying to kill off aged, retired CIA assassins — director Robert "Flightplan" Schwentke never lets this one achieve takeoff.
Willis plays Frank Moses, a lonely, retired government agent whose one joy in his solitary life is flirting with the lady who makes sure his pension checks show up. He even pretends he hasn't received those checks just for the chance to chat with Sarah, played with doe-eyed, flirtatious enthusiasm by Mary-Louise Parker.
But Frank's life in hiding comes to a bullet-riddled end. Not his life, just his seclusion. He grabs Sarah — who is frightened, outraged, appalled and maybe a little turned on.
They go on the lam, scrambling to find old colleagues as a government agent (Karl Urban) stays hot, or at least lukewarm, on their trail.
Willis delivers his ageless brand of action cool — one neat stunt has him stepping out of a spinning car and squeezing off a few rounds at his pursuers, in the middle of the French Quarter. But what sells this are those other "retired, extremely dangerous" agents. Helen Mirren is hilariously droll and unflappable. John Malkovich is even more hilarious and utterly flappable.
And Morgan Freeman, an agent in "a home," is the one who gets to say, "This used to be a gentleman's game" and "We're getting the band back together."
There's even a winning cameo by ancient Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine as an archivist who knows where all the bodies are buried — literally.
That old Hollywood saying, "Good villains make good thrillers," is pretty much where Red comes up short. The solution to the mystery of who is after them and why is a letdown. And the fellow pulling the strings does nothing surprising. Urban's earnestness is not enough to sustain interest until we finally confront Mr. Big.
But Red has enough acting flourishes and incidental action pleasures to make it an adrenaline-jacked giggle, if not exactly the romp one so fervently expects.