You haven’t really lived until you’ve seen Dame (yes, Dame) Helen Mirren toting an Uzi and mowing down bad guys. This is, after all, the same woman who four years ago won an Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth, the global personification of gentility and noblesse.

Of course, a year after that performance, she branched out a bit by playing Nicolas Cage’s mother in the sequel to National Treasure, and while she didn’t mow down any bad guys, it was still a role (perhaps the first in her career) that required a stuntwoman. Apparently, she had fun, because in RED, based on the DC Comics series, she ups the ante even more.

And we’re all the better for it.

Director Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler’s Wife) deftly mixes action and comedy with a pretty darn good screenplay, and makes RED a surprisingly fun time. Think of Lethal Weapon for the AARP set, toss in a little Mission Impossible, and you’re in the right neighborhood.

Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired and extremely dangerous (hence ‘RED’) black-ops agent with the CIA. He spends his days alone in his suburban Cleveland home, taking his vitamins, hitting the heavy bag, and phone-flirting with his claims worker Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) at the pension office. One night, a heavily armed assault team shoots Frank’s home so full of bullets that walls start falling down, but he escapes without a scratch (because he’s that good).

When he figures out that his phone is tapped, he realizes that Sarah is in danger, too, so he drives to Kansas City and ‘kidnaps’ her. While on the run, (trying to figure out who’s behind the hit) Frank takes Sarah along as he looks up his old CIA buddies: 80-year-old Joe (Morgan Freeman), the supremely paranoid loony-tune Marvin (John Malkovich), and Mirren’s flower-arranging image of Southern hospitality (with a British accent) Victoria, who confesses to Frank that she “still takes the odd (black-ops) job on the side.”

It’s a motley crew for the ages, spanning some twenty-seven years between the youngest (Parker) and the oldest (Freeman)… and that doesn’t even count the 93-year-old Ernest Borgnine who pops up as the CIA records keeper. Fortunately all of them bring something to the table and are ready, willing, and able to help their old friend (and his new girl) figure out who orchestrated the hit… and exactly how far and wide it goes.

The cast is all (surprisingly) in its element. Mirren is completely believable and an outright hoot. One minute, she’s baking the team some lovely tea biscuits, the next she’s donning winter camo and manning a sniper rifle that would make Rambo jealous. Malkovich more than makes up for the time he lost as the ho-hum trainer in Secretariat; Marvin is a role he was born to play, and he eats up the screen with equal measures of hilarity and over-the-top paranoia. Parker is brilliant as Sarah, going from ‘kidnap’ victim to full-fledged team member without missing a beat, and Willis has a ball mixing the inventiveness of John McClane, the ‘no-nonsenseness’ of John Hartigan, and the dry wit of Jimmy Tudeski.

The script by Jon and Erich Hoeber, adapted from the three-part comic series, is fun, well-crafted, and moves right along with few (if any) dull moments, and the soundtrack, which flawlessly flips from Irving Berlin to Aerosmith, pulls the whole thing together seamlessly.

In the end, you can’t help but be thankful that these extremely dangerous folks came out of retirement. Here’s hoping it lasts.

4.5/5 stars