Based extremely loosely on a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, Red actually benefits from deviating from its source material and becoming more cartoonish and goofy. Ellis and Hamner’s story of a retired assassin being targeted for elimination by the government is grim and very violent, and its ugly cynicism is a little wearying. Director Robert Schwentke and screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber have a much lighter touch, supplementing main character Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) with a whole group of sidekicks once he discovers that the government is out to kill him. First, he helpfully kidnaps his pension caseworker (Mary-Louise Parker), who’s in danger thanks to her association with Frank (and on whom he has a serious crush). Then, he contacts a bunch of fellow retired agents (played by Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox) to help him take down the people after him.
The plot isn’t really the point, though—there’s your standard conspiracy that goes straight to the top, and a few too many twists and reversals that pad out the extended running time. The entertainment value comes from the great casting, even if some of the roles are glorified cameos. Willis and Parker have nice chemistry, and the rest of the old-timers are clearly having fun playing retired (but still formidable) badasses. None of it holds together if you think about it too much, but the movie works because, for the most part, you’re never tempted to.