RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Talk about arty aspirations. Hard to think of an action movie with three Oscar winners in the cast, but the new movie "RED" does: Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and Richard Dreyfuss. In spite of all that star power and firepower, film critic Kenneth Turan finds the picture isn't all that explosive.
KENNETH TURAN: Seeing Helen Mirren let loose with a machine gun is an ultimate movie experience, like watching the Queen of England lay waste to a crowd of unruly commoners. It's also the only dark corner of "RED" that satisfies as it should.
RED is an acronym for Retired Extremely Dangerous. That's a group of former CIA agents, led by Bruce Willis, who've been sent out to pasture in favor of younger, presumably deadlier, government operatives.
(Soundbite of movie "RED")
Unidentified Man (Actor): (as character) Bad move, grandpa.
TURAN: "RED"'s very complex plot starts with Willis having to rescue a woman, played by Mary Louise Parker, he's been flirting with over the telephone. The first time they meet in person, she thinks he's kidnapped her.
(Soundbite of movie, "RED")
Mr. BRUCE WILLIS (Actor): (as Frank Moses) Just hoping you'd be a little more understanding of the situation.
Ms. MARY LOUISE PARKER (Actor): (as Sarah Ross) I was hoping not to get kidnapped or drugged. I was hoping you'd have hair. Thanks for saving me, I guess.
Mr. WILLIS: No problem.
TURAN: Willis and an increasingly friendly Parker make contact with old comrades in arms like Helen Mirren, who's trying to convince herself she's happy being retired.
(Soundbite of movie, "RED")
Ms. HELEN MIRREN (Actress): (as Victoria) I love it here. I love the baking. I love the flower arranging. I do get a bit restless sometimes. I take the odd contract on the side.
TURAN: The other actors run hot and cold, but Mirren is most at ease in her role, handling her lines with aplomb and firing automatic weapons like she means it.
The problem with "RED" is that it can't stop trying too hard to be hip. Its inescapable air of self-satisfaction is not only unearned, it's downright irritating. Lots of fine actors wander through this mayhem, including Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox and even Ernest Borgnine. But their combined abilities still can't make a dent in the film's smugness.
"RED" is too violent to be a comedy and not funny enough to counterbalance all the violence. It has its moments of machine-gun-toting charm, but there are way too few of them to go around.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: The movie is "RED." Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.
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