Review: Red

*** (M)

Director: Robert Schwentke.

Cast: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Urban.

WITH such a stellar headline cast - as well as some well-respected actors in small roles - and a real sense of action and fun, Red is one of those films that makes you wonder how and why it slipped through the cracks.

A minimal amount of promotion meant it didn't last long at cinemas in Australia and barely made it out of the capital cities. It's taken ages to finally get to DVD.

Shame really. This is a flawed but highly enjoyable actioner, bouyed massively by its big-hitting stars and a cheekily dark sense of humour.

Bearing little resemblance to the comic book inspiration of the same name, Red focuses on Frank Moses (Willis) - a former CIA agent attempting to adjust to retirement.

His quiet home life is disrupted by the arrival of a "wet crew" assigned to kill him, and soon Moses is on the run trying to find out why he's a target.

The colourful characters he meets along the way - Malkovich as a conspiracy nut, Freeman as his former CIA partner, Mirren as a retired hitwoman who still keeps an uzi in her gladiolis - spark the film no end. Without them, Red would potentially be one of those also-ran Bruce Willis movies that are forgotten as soon as they're over (Mercury Rising anyone? 16 Blocks?).

Willis himself is excellent as the softly spoken Moses, Parker gets good laughs as his love interest, and Kiwi Urban gives one of his better performances. Added bonuses include Brian Cox as a Russian agent, Ernest Borgnine as a CIA archivist, Richard Dreyfuss as an ex-soldier, and Julian McMahon as the American vice-president.

It really is all about the cast because the story and plotting is shaky at best. The action flits from location to location with scant time for reason or logic and the skeletal plot takes an hour to find its real direction.

But the laughs and action make up for it. Plus, there's nothing quite so cool as watching Malkovich go crazy or Mirren go Rambo.

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