General MacArthur famously said "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away." Frank Moses, the protagonist of Red, played by Bruce Willis, probably would have preferred dying to the slow and painful fade he is undergoing. He clearly does not fit into the life he is leading, as evidenced by a spartan household, the only house on his block lacking Christmas decorations. Every day appears the same, a pattern he has been following for some time without any joy, except for his phone calls to report a missing benefits check to Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). She too seems particularly unfulfilled by her daily routine, wishing to travel and reading romance novels in order to imagine the kind of life she could have. When a black ops team attempts to assassinate Frank in his own home, he instantly jumps into action with all the pent-up gusto of a once proud man beaten down. And he realizes that his regular phone calls to Sarah have probably put her in danger as well, so he heads cross-country to rescue her, whether she wants to be rescued or not.
And so begins a fairly fluffy movie, another story taken from DC's Vertigo imprint. The plot that is revealed is only mildly labyrinthine, involving only a few moving parts and doing nothing exotic with the story telling. Along the way Willis picks up Boggs (John Malkovich), the man who is so crazy he might just be sane; Joe (Morgan Freeman), the token black man; Victoria (Helen Mirren), the unlikely looking assassin; and Ivan (Brian Cox), the Russian. The story is familiar as are the stereotypes the actors fill, but the fun truly lies in watching the actors do their thing. They are effortless and they inhabit these characters. It looks as though they are having tons of fun, and it's hard not to have fun with them. Throw in Karl Urban and Richard Dreyfuss (who apparently was told to play Dick Cheney) as our team's nemeses, and the potential for enjoyment is pretty high.
Red is a caper movie for the aging boomer crowd. There is very little bloodshed, even in the scene where an assassination squad sends what appears to be thousands of rounds into Frank's house, pretty much tearing it off its foundation. There isn't a lot of action either, rather more caper-y plot movements than the rote action sequences we've grown to expect. The plot and the actors have their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, riffing on the movie that might have been were these characters younger. For heaven's sake, even 93-year old Ernest Borgnine shows up.
The result is a fun movie, neither horrible nor terrific, and fairly forgettable after a bit. It's fun to watch icons of a generation having a blast, but kind of sad as well, since there is a sentimentality attached to the plot, that of powerful useful people wasting away alone. Fortunately the sadness is not played up, and there is a lot of humor as the old retired folks make fools of the young whippersnappers. In the end, like Vertigo's earlier release this past summer, The Losers, Red is a great matinee movie with a sense of itself and its place in the tradition it follows. It doesn't intend to be great, but it succeeds at its goal to entertain.