CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS, BIG NAMES, A BIT OF A CERTIFICATION ISSUE AND A DULL CLANG IF YOU HIT IT WITH A STICK
The movie is many things. Beyond being a thuddingly hollow, clangingly empty comic strip-inspired action spectacular that passes 111 minutes fairly efficiently, it's also a film that boasts a genuinely terrific cast - Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Ernest Borgnine. That's not just impressive in terms of sheer star power but it's impressive in terms of their age: Borgnine is 93 years old, most of the topline stars are in their fifties and sixties, and even Willis' love interest, Mary-Louise Parker, is 46! It's a film that has absolutely no teen appeal as far as who's actually on screen is concerned, yet its 12A family-friendly rating and its slam-bang hyper-action might suggest it's not aimed at an older, more mature audience.
The no-think plot of Red has newly retired CIA black-ops agent Bruce Willis (ironically enough, at 55, not really old enough to retire) forced back into action when an assassination squad tries to kill him. Pausing only to scoop us a pensions clerk (Mary-Louise Parker) with whom he'd been flirting by telephone, Willis rounds up his old spy colleagues Mirren, Freeman and Malkovich in an attempt to find out who wants him, and several others, dead, and why. Might it have something to do with a coverup of a top-secret operation in Willis' agency past? Somewhat inevitably the narrative involves running shootouts and respected actors emptying firearms at one another.
But while, despite the amount of ammunition and explosives set off, it's generally bloodless and inoffensive, I'm minded to take issue with the 12A that the BBFC have given it, for "frequent moderate action violence and one use of strong language". There's been some recent questioning of whether, given the amount of quite painful-looking "moderate action violence" you can get away with at 12A, they should be allowed a few more F-words. I disagree: they should leave the language barrier where it is and raise the bar for the thicko action material. We don't want kids hearing obscenities and profanties, but it seems okay that we show them crunching violence and gunplay without any of the consequences - the blood, the ripped flesh, the screaming and suffering. Honestly, I really do think this should be 15 material.
But all that whinging aside, Red (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) is fun, in a thoroughly senseless kind of way: HM Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle and machine guns, a mad John Malkovich being enjoyably paranoid, Morgan Freeman occasionally employing a dodgy French accent, Willis basically doing The Bruce Willis Performance (Patent Pending). And with their masquerades and breaking into the CIA headquarters, this does almost feel like Mission Impossible for the Viagra generation. It's entertaining enough fodder for the eye, but it has absolutely not a shred of nourishment for the brain or the mind.