Dir: Robert Schwentke
Star: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Karl Urban

Former CIA agent Frank Moses (Willis) is now retired, and the highlight of his days is chatting to pension-plan agent Sarah (Parker). When his past re-surfaces, in the shape of a hit squad sent to assassinate him, he high-tails it out of town, pausing only to kidnap Sarah in the process. Joe links up with his former partner, Joe Matheson (Freeman) and the other members of his team, who are similarly retired from the business. Except, as we all know, you can never quite "retire". Frank and his friends discover a trail of bodies, linked by a Central American mission in 1981. Clearly, someone is trying to tidy up some loose ends, using current CIA agent William Cooper (Urban) as the sharp implement. Can Moses figure out who's pulling Cooper's strings, and convince them - politely or otherwise - to stop the wet work?

The obvious touchstone is The Expendables, but while that lobbed in nothing but action stars, the supporting cast here is rather better in terms of talent. Freeman, Helen Mirren and Ernest Borgnine have all won Oscars; Jet Li and Dolph Lungren...not so much. This is the main pleasure here, and it's enormous fun to see the likes of Mirren slum it, toting a weapon as if it were the Queen's handbag. She and her pensioner buddies prove that RED stands for 'Retired: Extremely Dangerous' and also that OAP is apparently short for 'Old, Armed and Peeved'. Once the plot develops, it's isn't quite as impressive, being more or less the usual conspiratorial hokum, and the film has few surprises in the second-half. That said, it remains slickly executed, and holds the interest. While I'd have liked more subversion of genre norms, for mindless entertainment, is certainly held together by the performances much better than most of its kind.

[October 2011]

Better than dead
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