Directed by Robert Schwentke
Like the acronym of its title—"Retired, Extremely Dangerous"—Red activates contradictory attitudes towards age. A rising young politician looking to remove any potentially career-killing dirt from his name initiates the action of the film (and, to a lesser extent, of Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner's 2003-04 graphic novel series, on which the film's based), but the real impetus for the intergenerational antinomy could have been engaged much more provocatively. Retired CIA spies like Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) can't quit the killing game, nor abandon their solitary ways, and are found pacing their empty suburban homes at all hours of the night. Retirement sucks, no matter how cushy, and it's better to risk death than to wait for it to come knocking, as it does repeatedly in Red.
Robert Schwentke's clumsily paced but nicely shot road trip killing spree fetishizes work and portrays comfortable seniority as a deathtrap. So when a CIA-hired kill squad comes for Frank, its glorious demolition of his home by machine gun has all the indicators of being a fantasy sequence, a symbolic freeing of the sedate spy from his cell. The next scene doesn't find him waking sadly from sleep, but rather flown from Cleveland to Kansas City to visit the pension plan help line operator Sarah (Mary Louise Parker) with whom he's developed a phone friendship. Thus begins a Hitchcockian would-be-couple-on-the-run courtship mapped onto a cross-country game of disrespectful young spy versus good ol' spy. Each city is introduced with a "Welcome to..." greeting card, driving distances between destinations so conveniently excised through editing that Sarah, little more than a spectator within the story, gawks at every fast-approaching skyline.
With each successive stop Frank picks up another old co-killer, prompting all kinds of knowing genre cliches, from "this used to be a gentleman's game" to "we're getting the band back together," though screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber inexplicably stop short of reiterating the Lethal Weapon series' equally applicable mid-shootout catchphrase: "I'm too old for this shit." By the time the band—including dirty old gentleman Joe (Morgan Freeman), compulsive conspiracy theorist Marvin (John Malkovich), Russian frenemy Ivan (Brian Cox) and suave sniper Victoria (Helen Mirren)—leaves D.C., Chicago-bound in a stolen ambulance for a (vice-)presidential assassination, Red starts to feel like one big old folks' Obamacare conspiracy allegory disguised as a vigilante war crimes tribunal.
The comedy comes in fits and starts, as does the Ocean's 11-ish pleasure we're supposed to take from watching a group of famous actors have fun playing exaggerated versions of themselves while shuttling between set pieces. Romance remains sidelined and sexless—because, you know, old people don't have sex, they just don't. More fundamentally, though, the frenetic sequencing of action, group camaraderie and wizening confrontations with hotheaded CIA youngster William Cooper (Karl Urban) never hits its stride. Scenes are cut and assembled piecemeal, and one imagines that as a DVD special feature, each chapter could be set on a map and explored in any order without sacrificing much narrative cohesion. But then one might completely lose the only truly dangerous thing about these rampaging retirees: their fundamental discontent with the anaesthetizing golden age lifestyle towards which Americans are made to aspire.
Opens October 15