RED * * * *
Cert 12A, 110mins
Bruce Willis, Karl Urban and Morgan Freeman are names which don’t look out of place in a spy action thriller.
But Helen Mirren? She plays the Queen and a WI member, so we don’t expect her to be holding large guns and shooting people.
The great Dame is nothing if not versatile and adds a certain class to the proceedings. It’s just a shame she doesn’t show up for an hour and isn’t given a great deal to do.
Willis plays retired CIA operative Frank Moses, who becomes the target of a covert operation to kill everyone involved in a nasty incident in Guatemala.
Unfortunately for pensions worker Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who Frank has been chatting up on the phone, she gets caught up in the mayhem too.
Frank kidnaps her (for her own safety) and seeks out old colleagues to help him fight back, played by Freeman, Mirren and John Malkovich.
“I kill, dear,” explains Mirren to Sarah as she puts aside her flower arranging to pick up a semi-automatic weapon. Red, by the way, stands for Retired Extremely Dangerous.
Willis shows there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet.
Indeed, this is a good film for proving that ageing actors – including a remarkably sprightly 93-year-old Ernest Borgnine – can still do the business and be entertaining with it.
There’s some ludicrous action – Frank seems to be Mr Untouchable, jumping through panes of glass with no ill effects – but it’s slickly done, even if it does run out of steam a little.
It is the strong cast, which also includes Richard Dreyfuss and Brian Cox, which elevates this film and makes it a fun watch. RL
LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE 3D * * *
Cert PG, 110mins
Director Zach Snyder is a man of considerable on-screen violence.
From the zombie flesh-eating menace of Dawn of the Dead to the decapitations of 300 and the vigilantes in Watchmen, he doesn’t hold back. Don’t be fooled by the relatively mild trailer to this PG-rated film, nor the promise that it’s ‘‘from the producers of Happy Feet’’.
This is a full-blooded smackfest, with owls fighting their own wars just like humans. Behind those pretty faces lie some battle-ready nerves of steel to match their body armour and razor-sharp talons.
A young owl called Soren lives in a kingdom threatened by the Pure Ones.
Barely able to fly, Soren searches for Guardians, the legendary winged warrior owls. They live in a mythical tree which offers more than a hint that this is actually Lord of the Wings in disguise.
Several intense moments suggest a 15 certificate, so be wary of taking under sevens.
Many of the flying sequences and feather details are magnificent. But where Legend really scores is that it arguably has the most emotive eyes of any computer-generated animation to date.
Though based on a series of best-selling books by Kathryn Lasky, the story is quite hard going, especially as many owls are frequently disguised and their names are so unfamiliar.
Too many harsh voices also distract your attention from the beauty of the pictures – only Pirates’ star Geoffrey Rush offers much in the way of characterisation for his battle-scarred owl Izylryb.
If the score seems to be from a different movie altogether, Legend’s ultimate saving grace is that the haunting beauty of those little round faces is assured.
Also showing at IMAX. GY
ALPHA AND OMEGA 2D / 3D * * *
Cert U, 87 mins
Younger children won’t know what’s hit them if they see Legend of the Guardians.
So why not take them to see this comparatively gentle animation instead?
Like Legend, it’s about two rival gangs of creatures from the same species.
And we follow the battle sequences through the lives of their young.
With food scarce in their native homeland, moves are afoot for two alpha wolves to marry.
But when one alpha and an omega wolf are captured by humans and transferred to a national park, how will their growing relationship affect their inevitable return?
Though predictable and routine, Alpha and Omega will be enjoyed by youngsters under eight regardless of whether they see the 3D version.
Or, as my children happily did, the 2D alternative. GY
RAMONA AND BEEZUS * * * *
Cert U, 103 mins
Fed up with animations? Then the good news is that this is the best live action children’s film since Nanny McPhee 2.
Based on the best-selling books by Beverly Cleary, it’s the story of two sisters rooted in humdrum reality.
Younger Ramona has a big imagination but is quite accident-prone compared to older sister Beezus.
The actress who plays her, Joey King, now 11, gives the best performance of her age group since Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine.
A star is born. GY