Out of retirement plan, into the fire

FILM
RED
Cert: 12A

Helen Mirren firing a machine gun – that’s the Big Sell on this picture, and it’s a pretty good one. Mirren is a prim, proper, elegant English lady – as always (and that’s the point). She lives in a gorgeous house in the American countryside and also just happens to be a crack sniper and retired C.I.A. assassin. Who still takes the odd job on the side, just for the hell of it.

That’s a set-up with a lot of fun potential, but it’s just a part of it. Her fellow Retired and Extremely Dangerous operatives include retirement home perv Morgan Freeman, acid-fried whack-job John Malkovich, Ruskie spy and old romantic Brian Cox and, leading them all, actually-quite-together Bruce Willis. It’s a cast to be reckoned with, and even if the action sequences aren’t the most exciting ever, they deliver the goods in style.
Having been put out to pasture and settling in for a boring quiet life, Willis’s former black ops badass Frank Moses finds himself fending off a unit of hitmen making an attack on his home one evening. With his attractive, imperilled pensions officer (played by Mary Louise Parker) in tow, he puts back together his old team as they attempt to get to the bottom of who’s trying to kill them and why.

The answer is the usual conspiracy nonsense revolving around evil corporations and slippery government turncoats, but that’s not the point. The terrific cast wring every last drop out of the material they’re given – not always brilliant, but never less than hearty tongue-in-cheek stuff – and watching them do so is great fun. Mary Louise Parker, while in a silly along-for-the-ride role, is hilarious.

Annoyingly, things eventually slide: the pace slackens, the jokes wear thin, the story takes one hackneyed turn too many. But in the most part this is an entertaining caper whose firepower is all in the casting rather than the effects – and that’s refreshing in itself.
Timothy Barber

AFRICA UNITED
Cert: PG

Certainly not only for the football buffs, this African road movie holds a broad appeal as its sheer optimism overcomes its flaws. Three Rwandan kids plan to head to capital city, Kigali, so that football ace Fabrice can try out for a place in the Africa United team, who are to play at the opening ceremony of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Unfortunately his wheeler-dealer “manager” Dudu cuts one too many corners and they end up on the wrong bus on the way to a Congolese refugee camp. Deciding to go ahead with the original plan, the trio set out on a journey through Africa’s interior, picking up a couple of new friends along the way, in the hope of making the ceremony.

Along the way, and amid the magnificent landscapes of the African outback, the film confronts some of the tough issues facing the continent, such as the HIV epidemic, child soldiers and sex trafficking.

Another success is 15 year old Eriya Ndayambaje as Dudu, who emerges here as a natural comic talent and is undoubtedly the star of the show. That said, recent comparisons to Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire are pretty farfetched – Africa United often feels like a TV movie, despite the weight of some of its content. It’s as heavy on the corny feel-good stuff as it is on the harder truths Africa faces, but ultimately manages to strike a reasonable balance. And, given that a quarter of all the film’s net profit goes to Comic Relief, it’s difficult not to be affected by the feel-good-factor that’s written into the film’s DNA.
Rhys Griffiths