There’s a world out there where people get shot more than they get paper cuts. It’s a world where alliances change, people might be out to kill you, but nothing’s ever all that big a deal. It’s just a Tuesday, and the black ops have busted into your home to end your life.

Red might just be the best romantic comedy of the year featuring Helen Mirren on a piece of heavy artillery. Frank (Bruce Willis) is a former CIA agent who’s attacked in his home just when he’s close to asking out Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a woman he calls the Federal Pension Program help line to speak with on a regular basis. The retired don’t know about Facebook yet.

He draws her into a world of former spooks who are also being targeted, including a suave gentleman (played by Morgan Freeman), a paranoid stuffed pig enthusiast (John Malkovich) and a gorgeous lady with a penchant for wet work (Helen Mirren).

The main reason that Red works as well as it does is the chemistry between all the leads. Everyone on screen is clearly having a great time with each other, and that shines out brightly. Malkovich is a genius here, managing to play an insane person without being over the top, Mary-Louise Parker reminds that she can do more than Nancy Botwin, and Helen Mirren is incredibly charming. Bruce Willis as Bruce Willis is his usual dry comedic presence – a sort of realistic superhero (completely with a subtle Unbreakable reference) – and Morgan Freeman playing Morgan Freeman makes me wish he’d finally do an audiobook reading of the Bible. The name not associated with any of the advertising is Brian Cox, and the veteran shows off some strong comedic chops here playing a former Soviet spy who happens to own some sensitive materials involving the CIA.

All of these people can kill with a smile on their faces.

On top of a great ensemble, Karl Urban adds a sure-headed young presence as a promising agent who’s tasked with killing Frank. He creates the character with a cool balance that makes him incredibly likeable even if we want to see him bested at every turn.

There are around 4 or 5 action set pieces, so the movie isn’t nearly as explosive as it could have been, but the story does a great job of upping the ante as the rabbit hole gets explored. Still, the whole thing feels light – brought on by humor rooted in a violent world of professional killers. For them, death is not nearly as profound an event, and a lot of humor comes both from the situations they find themselves in and their natural response to them – one usually of nonchalance and creepy calm.

The whole thing has a sort of Ocean’s Eleven feel to it with a quarter of the slickness and none of the complex plan. There’s a romantic element with Frank and Sarah, but since the movie doesn’t follow Sarah’s point of view and entry into this strange new society, the relationship becomes more of a side story to the more immediate task of avoiding being shot to death.

There’s a lot to like about the movie, and it moves at a fairly brisk pace. However, it’s ultimately a fun ride that’s fairly easily forgettable afterward. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t have the same landmines of laugh out loud moments that would make it stick out, and I’m sure I’ll catch it on TBS eventually.

That being said, Red gets away with a decent amount of dark humor – a few fingers in a manila envelope, a few offhand comments from Malkovich’s character – and it’s refreshing to see it not land squarely in any particular MPAA rating. That goes for just about everything except the cartoon way that some of the minor antagonist explode, but even that is tongue in cheek enough to be forgiven. Still, the action does leave a bit to be desired.

Over all, it’s a good comedy, a decent action movie (with a few issues in staging), and a story with a perfect (and surprising) blend of actors. Some of the comedy is clunky, there’s a lot to suspend in the way of disbelief, but the interactions between the leads are priceless, and it might just leave you strangely hungry for pancakes.


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