A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that while this graphic novel-based action comedy is rated PG-13, its violence -- which is comparable to movies like Casino Royale and The Bourne Identity (also PG-13s) definitely approaches R-rated levels of intensity. The action sequences may be accompanied by plenty of laughs, but the body count is high and the weapons military-grade. On the plus side, there's no overt sexuality, and the language is standard issue for the rating ("s--t," "bitch," "a--hole," etc.). Teens will also take away the positive message that senior citizens can still "kick butt"; it's good for kids to realize that the elderly aren't all meek and frail -- most of them had long (and in this case exciting) careers before they retired.
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What's the story?
Retired black-ops agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) routinely calls into the government's pension office specifically to talk to customer-service rep Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who handles his account. Just as he's preparing to visit her, Frank is ambushed by a hit team -- but he goes to see her anyway, in case whoever's following him is onto her. He ends up having to tie her up to rescue her -- and then goes to his old friend/fellow agent, Joe (Morgan Freeman), for help. After uncovering a hit list of agents who all worked on a particularly sensitive op, Frank and Sarah enlist fellow retirees Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) to join their team of RED (Retired Extremely Dangerous) agents to track down the higher-ups who've ordered the killings. Meanwhile, they must also evade ambitious CIA agent Wiliam Cooper (Karl Urban), who's in charge of eliminating Moses and his crew.
Is it any good?
Willis and the gang are clearly having a blast playing off of each other. Parker has remarkable comic timing, infusing lines like "Well I was hoping you'd have hair" (to Willis) with a style that actresses half her age can't muster. Mirren is equally as delightful, lobbing zingers like "If you hurt him, I'll kill you and bury your body in the woods" so well that you don't know whether to cringe or laugh. And when Malkovich asks, "Can I kill him now?" it's like an impatient small child pleading for his dessert, and the resulting humor is infectious. The supporting cast does well, too. Brian Cox, one of those chameleonic actors who can play a Russian spy in Red as easily as King Lear, always adds value to an ensemble, and he doesn't disappoint. And Urban, who was Dr. McCoy in Star Trek, should be cast in action films more often. He's got a steely look and a powerful charisma that works whether he's straight-laced as in Red or bad-boy like The Bourne Supremacy. But he's the young 'un, and this movie definitely belongs to the over-55 actors, all of whom prove that with age comes a mastery of craft that, with the right script is, as Sarah would say, "awesome."
Unlike the rough-and-tumble stars of ensemble action movie The Expendables (which Willis graced with a small cameo), all of Willis' retired secret-op friends in RED are played by Academy Award winners or nominees. That makes a huge difference in the expectation and delivery of performances. It's unthinkable that Jason Statham or Dolph Lundgren would take on Shakespearean adaptations, but within context of this movie, Malkovich, Freeman, and even Mirren are all quite believable as government operatives who've spent their careers tracking down and assassinating people. How wonderful that a movie in which the youngest actor, Urban, is 38, and the oldest, Ernest Borgnine, is 93, could be so thrilling and funny that you never once miss the busty or hunky eye-candy that usually appears in action films.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's violence. Does the humor that accompanies it affect its impact? How does it compare to the violence in other action movies you've seen?
What are the movie's messages about romance, adventure, and loneliness? What do you think of the way that Frank and Sarah's relationship starts?
What major differences are there between Red and other action movies? Is it just the age of the cast?
How do the "retirees" defy stereotypes in this movie? Does it make you rethink how you treat senior citizens?
- In theaters: October 15, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: January 25, 2011
- Cast: Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman
- Director: Robert Schwentke
- Studio: Summit Entertainment
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.