If there are two genres that have been well tread in the last few decades they’re comic book movies and post-cold war Spy flicks.  With RED we get a bit of both worlds, a tounge-in-cheek action flick based on graphic novel source written by Warren Ellis (I’m assured by my comic nerdy friends this is a big deal).

The trailer pretty much sets everything up in terms of plot – we’ve got a madcap crew of older spies that have been sent out to pasture (each of whom has been designated as “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”).  The film actually takes slightly too long to reach the expected pitch of the film, with a surprisingly charming precis involving Bruce Willis courting Mary-Louise Parker, his representative at the government pension office.  When he finds himself under attack (in quite spectacular fashion) he finds himself starting a very complicated relationship with a woman he’s never met in person.  We then spend much of the film “getting the band back together” (to quote one of the hackneyed lines), with an exquisite Helen Mirren and batshit crazy John Malkovitch rounding out the good guys.

Karl Urban plays a younger version of the Willis character, and he’s excellent in the role, a genuinely dashing and frankly handsome younger foil to the older pros. However, it’s the sheer glee exhibited by the main ensemble (along with Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfus and toothy Ernest Borgnine) that really makes the film more than just a jumble of spy cliches and action set pieces.

What in part elevates the film is just how deliriously awful it could have been – we could have had some OLD DOGS-style road trip piece, with forced chemistry and some rote story that ties the characters together in some jumbled way.  Instead, we get a film that  plays with an ease, an unabashedness which is quite enjoyable. The action sequences are as bombastic as you’d like, but it’s in the effortless kibitzing among the cast that makes this more memorable than most.  In a summer past with a slew of Action-team heroes battling evil (from A-TEAM to the EXPENDIBLES), this one seems to do it with a bit more restraint, a bit more class, yet just enough punch to notch it up a level when it counts. Impeccably cast, this is I think Willis’ best film in years, Mary-Louise is simply infectiously adorable, and those other extraordinary actors that surround them make for quite a show.

Besides, if you don’t smile at the image of a stunningly beautiful Dame Helen Mirren, resplendent in a gorgeous white gown, plowing down gunmen with her 50mm caliber tripod mounted gun, then you simply can’t be helped.