Helen Mirren in 'RED' - Photo: Frank Masi
Helen Mirren in 'RED' - Photo: Frank Masi
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RED, an action-comedy that opened last week and will probably be bumping around the multiplexes for a while, may seem an inauspicious candidate to inaugurate our Queen Anne & Magnolia News movie blog. This is not a picture that should have anyone rushing to the barricades, either to exalt or to denounce. It's not great cinema; it's not a piece of garbage. It's just a movie. And even if you happen to enjoy it - as I did, quite a bit - you may feel a tad disconcerted. Shouldn't there be something to beat our chests about? Some point to be made? Some subtext, context, or pretext to tease out and dwell on?

Actually, RED's being "just a movie" is a big part of its unexpected charm. Still more unexpected because a careless description could make it sound like a number of recent, distinctly charmless action movies (The Losers, The A-Team, Predators, and probably The Expendables, though I didn't see that last one). The title is an acronym applied to superannuated secret agents - Retired, Extremely Dangerous - and their worst enemy appears to be the government they used to work for. The ex-operatives are played by a cast approaching or well past the qualifying age for Medicare. Bruce Willis takes the lead, but there's plenty for Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, and Brian Cox to do, too - not to mention Richard Dreyfuss, Ernest Borgnine, and the junior member of the team, Mary-Louise Parker (a mere 46).

These performers are in no need of being obsolesced, as they demonstrate every moment they're on screen. And having them on screen, trading patter and shtik with peerless timing and grace, is all the raison-d'être RED needs. The story doesn't bear thinking about, but it's nimbly told. By nimble I mean, for instance, that director Robert Schwentke can bring off a transition from New Orleans to New York City with three or four well-chosen, straightforward, un-special-effected shots, so that even as we may be saying "How did we get here?" in terms of the skullduggery plot, we know exactly where we are in terms of spatial and narrative lucidity.

Which is to say (just to rub it in), RED is really nothing like those other, unremittingly messy and stupid action pictures. Not only is it competent, it eschews any sense of self-importance. When the film is obliged to fulfill the blow-things-up quotient that goes with the territory, there's no huffing, puffing, or strutting to flaunt what armament the filmmakers had at their disposal. This is a class act, content in the knowledge that class is firepower enough. -RTJ