It's not hard to sum up the appeal of RED. It's basically a chance to see Brucie back doing what he does best: headlining a film where he lays the smack down and cracks wise while he does it. Thankfully, it's not the Bruce Willis show: there is more than able support from some of the finest actors (of a certain age) around.
Based on the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, Willis is retired CIA agent Frank Moses. He's got a nice house in suburbia, and it's shown from the go that this world of picket fences and Christmas decorations is not his world. He just doesn't know how to operate in the regular day-to-day. As such, he's a lonely fella and his only real human contact is with his pension agent, Mary-Louise Parker's Sarah. The relationship played between the two of them really, almost bizarrely, works. In their own ways, they both crave something more from their current life: he's lived the adventure and doesn't know how to live otherwise, while she has never really had any adventure or life experience. But she craves it, and they both live out/re-live some of that through trashy romance novels.
Of course, it's not long before Willis' retirement is, quite literally, blown apart. He's been declared Retired, Extremely Dangerous so has to get out of town, kidnap Mary-Louise Parker (for her own good, of course) and, as Morgan Freeman states, get the band back together. That band includes Freeman (criminally under-utilised), John Malkovich in full-on maniac mode and Dame Helen Mirren, who looks like she's having the best of times in an evening gown, combat boots and behind a .50 cal machine-gun. Also thrown into the mix are Ed Asner, Brian Cox and Richard Dreyfuss; I had no idea these guys were in it! For some reason they've been left off the advertising entirely. Which is downright criminal, especially as Cox gives such a charming twinkly-eyed performance as a Russian agent. NZ's own, Karl Urban, is the growly-voiced young pup agent on the trail of Willis & co. He doesn't miss out on any of the action and actually manages to stand out from amongst this embarrasment of acting riches.
I had a blast with RED; it's a solid, fun-times action film. A far better star vehicle for Willis than the recent Cop Out (which, admittedly I haven't seen and likely won't. Nothing, from the awful trailers to the scathing reviews to Kevin Smith’s anti-critic Twitter rant, makes me want to see it). It is actually Willis' first really good leading role since 2006's 16 Blocks. There are more than a few really fun, over-the-top action set-pieces: from the world's least subtle covert assault team, the first chase scene with Karl Urban, Malkovich against a rocket launcher and Helen Mirren doing anything. Though these get close to being outright ridiculous, you just go along with it. It's so much damned fun and the tone has been set for the outrageousness and RED succeeds where Live Free or Die Hard fell apart - as the Die Hard series began as a more "realistic" take on the action film.
Which isn't to say it's all fun and games. As mentioned, Freeman is completly under-utilised and the relationship between his Joe and Willis' Moses never feels quite right. Perhaps if Samuel L. Jackson had been brought in instead, and he and Willis could've traded on their previous screen history. But that's just after-the-fact fan casting. The second act also begins to drag, after so many great set-pieces in the first and only really gets back on track with the final stage, after a visit to Dickie Dreyfuss.
But hell, overall, RED is damn fine cinematic fun. Director Robert Schwentke manages to keep a pretty even hand on the tone (as opposed to, say, Flightplan), and shows he can stage some damn fine set-pieces. Also: Helen Mirren + big guns = awesome.