RED is based on a graphic novel I've never read by some guy I've never heard of. The concept is based on aging versions of some fairly old action cliches, played by some fairly well established and extremely talented actors and based on that premise alone, it looked like it could be rather excellent.
The story is...pretty irrelevant. As you know, if you've seen a trailer, it stars Bruce Willis as Frank Moses as a former CIA Agent who is not adjusting well to retirement and is making up for it by um...well stalking a pension worker played by Mary-Louise Parker. He seems a little more relieved than scared when a bunch of high tech ninjas show up to shoot him. He kills them all and begins chasing the needlessly complex conspiracy that wants him and some of his friends dead.
A lot of the casting has the Ocean's 11 style of casting people essentially as themselves, with slight tweaking for the situation. This can be insufferable in the wrong plot (like say, Ocean's 12), but in the right movie (Ocean's 11, Ocean's 13) it can make a comedy funnier. Morgan Freeman is the wise old one, with a little bit of the smooth James Bon style operator. John Malkovich is the crazy one because when is he anything else? They're both good, as are Ernest Borgnine in an extended cameo and Brian Cox doing a nice heroic spin on his usual villainous role (remember he was Killearn in Rob Roy or more recently Stryker in X2?). But the unquestioning star of the show is Helen Mirren as a gracefully aging action girl, complete with calm psychosis and a competence with machine guns. Karl Urban takes the thankless role of a bad guy, in something of a spoof of his role in The Bourne Identity.
On that note, the action scenes are well staged and inventive, with enough unique set pieces to be memorable. The most notable is that bit we've all seen in the trailer where Bruce Willis steps out of the spinning car, but believe me, there are more. The writing is also solid enough, leading to some honestly earned laughs at the expense of the concept and characters.
All the actors are doing great jobs, boosted by the clear amount of fun they're all having getting to play action heroes (the last time John Malkovich got the play a CIA agent was in a dialogue based Coen Brother film). If the film has a problem, it's in the story. Not in the script, the dialogue is just fine and all the characters are well rounded and nicely balanced. But the story is needlessly complex, full of holes and pretty much just a staging device to keep the group of gracefully aging actors going from action scene to action scene.
As far as 2010 over-the-top action movies go, RED is not as good as say Machete but on balance, I'll call it recommended. It's enjoyable, moves at a good clip, frequently both exciting and funny and nicely inventive. I don't know how much we'll remember it come December but right now, I'd say go see it, unless you've yet to see The Social Network in which case, go see that instead.
Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders how happy Karl Urban is to finally get a memorable role that isn't Eomer.