There are a great many legitimate reasons to see Red: to enjoy the cumulative star wattage of one of the most overstuffed above-the-line casts of the year; the desire to see a fun & simple movie in a month given largely to horror, watery Oscarbait, and Katherine Heigl vehicles; to see whether or not it comfortably translates Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner's 3-issue comic book series into a cinematic idiom; because one simply cannot tire of stories of old spies being dragged back into the game and finding they're much happier in the field than in retirement; HELEN MIRREN WITH A BIG FUCKING GUN. All of these things are true of Red, and their combined force is just barely enough to make it worthwhile in the face of the singular, granite-like reason not to see the film: nobody involved, on either side of the camera, seems even vaguely interested in being there, nor quite fully awake.

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired CIA agent who lives in suburban Ohio and hates his life; the only thing that ever gives him the slightest joy is calling up the federal agency responsible for mailing his pension check and flirting with operator Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) on the flimsy excuse that he hasn't received that month's check (he tears them up). One day, he finds to his surprise that a tiny squadron of assassins wants him dead, and after destroying them, and his house, he flees on a cross-country mission to find out the whos, whats, and whys of his current life-endangering adventure, having sensibly kidnapped Sarah (to keep her from becoming a target), and meeting up with his former colleagues who may have been involved in whatever ancient operation has marked Paul himself for death: bored octogenarian Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), paranoid survivalist Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), and the upper-crust, matronly killer-for-hire Victoria (HELEN MIRREN WITH A BIG FUCKING GUN). I will not give away the game; but they are being chased by current CIA operative William Cooper (Karl Urban), who plainly doesn't understand all of the twists and turns of the case, either, and - are you sitting down? - slowly comes to see his quarry's side of things as increasingly ugly truths come to light.

Being sadly ignorant of the source material, I cannot say how much of this was present in the comic (my understanding is that there are a great many differences), but Red is put together with a certain playful awareness of comic book language, particularly in terms of its use of inserts, reaction shots, and cutaways; this is probably the best single thing about the movie, for it keeps things peppy and alert, in the small sense. It's actually quite weird, looking at it, how this microscopic vitality is not played out in the film as a whole: I cannot explain how it works, but director Robert Schwentke, while treating almost every moment with a heightened sense of zany fun, does not therefore achieve a similar sense of zaniness across the feature. In fact, the cumulative 111 minutes of Red are quite languid and laid-back, and the whole thing feels extremely easygoing rather than urgent. Too easygoing. Neither Schwentke nor screenwriter brothers Erich and Jon Hoeber see fit to instill much of a sense of danger or tension in the proceedings, not because they stakes are low, but because everything is so lightweight and effortless that we never assume for a second that anything truly bad will happen to the characters; and in the one case where it does, the moment is tossed off with a shrug.

Which brings me back to the chief reason for the movie: HELEN MIRREN WITH A BIG FUCKING GUN. It is obvious to one and all that this was my overwhelming motivation for wanting to see the film, and from the ad campaign, I think the studio recognised that everybody's favorite CTSBAILF* packing heat was indeed a prominent excuse for the movie's existence. Which is fair. What movie would not be improved by giving HELEN FUCKING MIRREN a BIG MOTHERFUCKING GUN? It would have single-handedly saved the third act of The Last Station. Having taken to heart the rules of making good pornography, the filmmakers delay this scene as long as they possibly can, to reveal: not damn much. Mirren, though obviously aware that it's a hood that she's wielding all sorts of absurdly overwrought weaponry, doesn't bring anything remotely like energy or good humor to the table; and in this she is joined by virtually the entire cast. Everybody takes everything so calmly throughout, it's impossible to take them seriously as characters or even as badass cartoons. Malkovich in particular has a ham-filled role that he of all people theoretically ought to devour whole; but he mostly just plays it straight. Willis plays himself, as he's taken to doing lately, and it almost works, since Paul Moses essentially is the Bruce Willis character, all laconic smirks and smug detachment.

Only two actors really rise above and beyond: Parker, who finds all sorts of tiny ways to carve out moments of interesting meaning in what is probably the least-rewarding of all the major roles; and Brian Cox, playing a smallish role as a former Soviet spy, obviously delighting in mashing a fake Rooshin accent around in his mouth. Which is not to say that they give the only good performances. Just about everyone gives a good performance. But they give the only fun performances, and this is what the movie desperately needs more of - fun. Though self-evidently scuplted as an action-comedy romp, Red lacks much fizzle: a bit of style here, a bit of wry humor there, and it doesn't add up to anything terribly memorable. If you've seen one film with an aging action hero playing his persona up for aburdist jokes - and not only have you likely seen at least one by now, there's a good chance that it also starred Bruce Willis - you've sort of seen them all, save for the ones that do something special. Red does nothing special. It entertains and then goes away, a perfectly ephemeral late-summer time-waster that for God knows what reason, cropped up in mid-autumn.