October 15, 2010 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'Red' -- GRADE: B

Review: Senior stars go nuts in the explosively silly 'Red'

Movie review,
Movie review, "Red": Tom Long reviews "Red", staring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Mary Louise Parker

You're never too old for mayhem.

That seems to be the message of "Red," a big, dumb, explosive and cartoonishly fun comic-book film starring — gasp! — old people, or at least older people.

It's the sort of film studios make for the twentysomething-teen crowd, but it's pointedly lacking in twentysomething-teens. The hope seems to be that youngsters will appreciate watching Gramps kick butt, while seniors will be invigorated by the possibilities.

No matter what, the movie succeeds at its own level, mixing Three Stooges anarchy into government conspiracy with a healthy helping of self-acknowledged silliness. It's not very bright, but then, it doesn't want to be; it just wants to be giggly.

Bruce Willis stars as Frank Moses, a retired CIA agent sitting at home bored. His big daily rise comes from talking with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), an administrative assistant in charge of his monthly retirement check, speaking from her office in Kansas City. They've never met in person but he'd like to.

That meeting happens sooner than planned when a team of assassins shows up in the night to kill Frank. Being Bruce Willis, he takes them all out — "Red" stands for Retired, Extremely Dangerous — before going on the run. First stop: Kansas City.

He kidnaps Sarah, calmly explaining to her that the CIA is now inexplicably out to kill him and probably her since they've been talking together so much.

He whisks her down to New Orleans, where he begins the process of putting together a team of oldies ripe for one more good fight.

First on the list is Morgan Freeman as Joe Matheson (Freeman fans beware, though; he's not actually in this movie all that much).

Next comes John Malkovich as Marvin Boggs, an acid-addled paranoid who often as not has real reason to be suspicious. Lastly, after a break-in at the CIA, the gang hooks up with genteel assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren).

The parade of fine actors continues as Richard Dreyfuss pops up playing a billionaire manipulator and the eternally under-rated Brian Cox takes on the role of a Russian agent looking to cause some trouble.

How old-skewing is this movie? Ernest Borgnine shows up! Does anybody younger than 40 (50?) even know who Ernest Borgnine is?

Despite all the gathered talent, director Robert Schwentke ("The Time Traveler's Wife"), working from a hectic script by Jon and Erich Hoeber, never tries to put on Acting School. It's an oldies but goodies show, nothing more.

And actually it's the comparative kid among all these names who gives the film much of its pep. Mary-Louise Parker (age 46) plays the big-eyed straight woman throughout the film, and her reactions hold most of the big guffaws. When things aren't exploding, Parker keeps the laughs coming.

Whether seniors actually will venture out to see their peers in such a decidedly immature venture, and whether youngsters will be able to identify with aged action heroes remains to be seen.

But even if it's a misguided experiment, "Red" is kind of a blast.

tlong@detnews.com (313) 222-8879

Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker are on the run in “Red.”
Helen Mirren and John Malkovich used to be the CIA’s top agents, but the ... (Summit Entertainment)