The reopening-night crowd at the Senator on Friday responded with laughter and applause to "RED," a cheeky caper with a tip-top cast.

Remember when fantasies were advertised for "kids of all ages?" "RED" is a graphic-novel movie for "adults of all ages."


The secret weapon of its heroes is experience. ("RED" stands for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous.") That's the movie's secret weapon, too.

As ex-CIA man Bruce Willis enlists black-ops veterans to uncover a foul plot that leads to America's highest corridors of power, his costars, including Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich, use all their seasoned wit to bring the movie personality and flavor.

Especially Mirren.

Mirren's admission that she based her hit-woman on Martha Stewart only sounds far-fetched. In "RED," she really is a comic dream of elegance as a woman who brings the same standards of taste and craft to homemaking, high-calibre rifles and haute couture. (She looks swell on the job -- see above, with Willis and and the ready-to-kill  Malkovich.)

Mirren and the younger yet equally reliable Mary-Louise Parker (whose character finds romance on the run with Willis) turn their scenes into pop duets on the theme of experience and innocence. Karl Urban blends slickness, heart and hard-guy ruefulness as the CIA man assigned to stop Willis' team.

Urban inspires the film's funniest interchange: Willis and Ernest Borgnine, twinkling-eyed and on his toes as the oldest of CIA old-timers, joke about Urban's "cute hair."

The director, Robert Schwentke, works like the master of a juggling act, cheerfully tossing the action from one able performer to another. He also fills in the narrative seams with picture-postcard views of great American locations like Chicago and New Orleans. And I mean picture-postcard views: he even shows us the postcards. (They look particularly enticing on the Senator's big screen.)

Perhaps because Brian Cox defty plays an affable, amorous Russian agent, I kept thinking of the old anti-Communist slogan, "Better Dead than Red." The reverse is true at the movies these days. "RED" has brought splashy, crowd-pleasing entertainment back to the Senator.

Have you seen Schwentke's previous big-star thriller, "Flightplan?" It's an ably directed, borderline-horrific suspense film about a mother (Jodie Foster) who loses her young daughter on a jumbo plane flying from Berlin to New York. Schwentke and his cast sustain panic-fueled paranoia, and the script has its own convoluted logic. But without the irreverent humor of "RED" the red herrings and improbabilities stick out and get in the way of your enjoyment. Schwentke may need a little comic anarchy in his properties to make his showmanship take flight.

Which did you like better, "RED" or "Flightplan?" Would you see a sequel to "RED?"