By Jonathan Kiefer

In RED, oldness is of the essence. Apparently, it is a movie about patronizing the elderly. RED stands for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous,” and refers to a once-elite team of aged and variously cuddly, trained killers who endure betrayal, conspiracy, brutality and infirmity. 

Of course, the film knows it's saddled with clichés. But even the knowingness seems old. A comedy, it hopes, RED derives from Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner's graphic novel, and there is oldness even in the film's ostensibly adolescent fixations: the soundtrack rawk-throb and stunty, slo-mo set pieces; the squall of semiautomatic weapons and performances. Maybe this is what happens when a generation weaned on comics and Bruce Willis flicks starts closing in on middle age without ever really having grown up. Wow, what an old-person thing to say.

Willis' Frank wakes at 6 am, out of habit, to another day of stale suburban retirement. To make the best of it, he flirts by phone with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the audibly foxy, cubicle-bound administrator of his pension. Then a team of hitmen shows up from nowhere and shoots the ever-loving shit out of Frank's house. It's him they're aiming for, obviously, but one virtue of Extreme Dangerousness is that it can serve as home security and life insurance simultaneously.

Whoever they are, it's safe to assume they also bugged Frank's calls. So he kidnaps Sarah for her own protection, then flits around the country gathering up his old team. Say hello to Joe (Morgan Freeman), a gracious rascal; Marvin (John Malkovich), a paranoid acid-casualty crackpot; Victoria (Helen Mirren), the real reason to see this movie; and Ivan (Brian Cox), an old, Russian cold warrior who once took three bullets for Victoria. From her, in fact.

Together, and with Sarah tagging along, Frank and company trace the matter of somebody wanting Frank dead to a limply Dick Cheneyan Richard Dreyfuss and a web of government skullduggery. Old story. At the CIA, the gang gets help from a record clerk played by Ernest Borgnine (old!) and resistance from a comparatively young buck played by Karl Urban, with whom Willis exchanges gunfire, fisticuffs and combative dialogue.

Soon, the movie has all but abandoned the wily and adorably coy Parker who, at 46, seems almost scandalously young in the given company. Hers is the right spirit for enlivening dumb fun such as this, but the film keeps too busy playing by rote to nurture it. Antiquation continues apace.

RED's screenwriters are Jon and Erich Hoeber who, before this, also adapted the graphic novel Whiteout and, after this, adapted the board game Battleship. The director is Robert Schwentke who, before this, made The Time Traveler's Wife. The draw is Mirren who, after this, moves on to Shakespeare. Isn't the movie business weird? Was it better in the old days?

Directed by Robert Schwentke
With Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman. Brian Cox, Helen Mirren, Ernest Borgnine and Karl Urban

Dreamcatcher, Regal Stadium 14
111 min.