Oct. 15 2010 12:00 AM

Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman take their best shots in 'Red'

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    (Friday, Oct. 15) Perhaps it’s oversimplifying things to say “Red” is the
    movie “Knight and Day” wanted to be. But it sure feels that way.

    It starts off with a flirtation between a man with a past
    (substitute Bruce Willis for Tom Cruise) and a woman who knows nothing about him
    (replace Cameron Diaz with Mary-Louise Parker). Before long, the two will be on
    the run together, bouncing from location to location and trying to stay at
    least a few steps ahead of hired killers. There’s a wacky genius to offer some
    much-needed assistance (goodbye to Paul Dano, hello to John Malkovich) and a
    truly cold-blooded cat out to stop our heroes (Peter Sarsgaard steps aside for
    Karl Urban).


    Are there explosions, car chases, more explosions, gunplay,
    a few bonus explosions and a few situations that defy the laws of physics (such
    as Willis’ character being able to emerge effortlessly from a spinning car)?
    What do you think?


    The real bonus in “Red” comes in the form of Helen Mirren,
    who casually drops in midway through the movie as a semi-retired professional
    assassin who delights in domesticity.


    “I love the baking, I love the flower-arranging, I love the
    routine,” she tells her former cohorts before confessing “I do take the odd
    contract on the side; you can’t flip a switch and become somebody else.”


    Mirren is a high-toned hoot, the wild card that “Red” sorely
    needs. The rest of the movie is enjoyable enough on its own terms, especially
    if you’ve been hankering for a revision of director Clint Eastwood’s “Space
    Cowboys” with former spies and intelligence agents in place of aging
    astronauts.


    Certainly no one can accuse “Red” of being stingy when it comes to
    star power: The cast also includes Morgan Freeman as Willis’ trusted
    ex-associate, who’s now enlivening a rest home; a supremely snarky Richard
    Dreyfuss, cast as an arms-dealing megalomaniac who assesses “a surcharge on
    weapons delivered to countries under U.N. embargoes”; and a Russian-accented
    Brian Cox, playing the one-time lover and target of the majestic Mirren.


    Inspired by a popular graphic novel, “Red” seems to take its
    attitude straight from Willis. Once a fat-talking, irrepressible man on the
    move in TV’s “Moonlighting,” Willis has mellowed into a tough guy with a tender
    side and a casual approach to life. If the hyperactive pace of “Knight and Day”
    reflected Tom Cruise’s highly strung, eager-to-impress persona, the off-hand,
    almost playful tone of “Red” is a reflection of Willis’ considerably less fussy
    image: He takes his work seriously, but not so seriously that he’s at risk of
    ulcers or hyperventilation.


    Older and wiser? Perhaps. Older and still wisecracking? Most
    definitely.