RED, Robert Schwentke, 111 mins (12A)<br/>Easy A, Will Gluck, 92 mins (15)

Old assassins never die, they just shoot from a new hip
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The Independent Culture

It feels as if RED has been made five or six times already this year – and it's taken this long to get it right.

Like The A-Team, The Expendables and The Losers, it's a film about the joshing camaraderie within a squad of affable secret agents, and like Knight & Day and Killers, it's about a James Bond-type dragging an innocent love interest into his bullet-riddled world. Unlike all of them, though, it's a witty action-comedy that delivers well-choreographed mayhem and well-judged banter instead of manic editing and acres of CGI.

The James Bond-type and his love interest are Bruce Willis's former CIA hitman and Mary-Louise Parker as the woman who is suddenly the target of Willis's old enemies. Parker is horrified, of course, but also rather titillated to be racing around the country with a trained assassin who speaks fluent Chinese. Thanks to Parker's flickering smile and sideways glances, there's a chemistry there that didn't exist between Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in Knight & Day.

There's also chemistry a-plenty between Willis's erstwhile sparring partners from the CIA, KGB and MI6, who are, like him, classified as RED: Retired, and Extremely Dangerous. There's Morgan Freeman, now in an old folks' home, John Malkovich, a scene-stealing, LSD-frazzled paranoiac who lives in a swamp, and Helen Mirren, who arranges flowers and bakes cakes, but still does the odd contract killing to keep her hand in.

With so many senior citizens on set, it's perhaps not surprising that the pace gets arthritic towards the end. The director, Robert Schwentke, tries to allot due time both to the spy/civilian romance, and to the wrinklies' getting-the-band-back-together high jinks, and the result is a film that should have been 10 minutes shorter. Still, you can't blame Schwentke for wanting to hang around for so long with actors – and weapons – of such high calibre.

Ever since Clueless proved that a literary classic could be reworked as a high-school comedy, several films have tried to repeat the trick, and the best so far is Easy A. Inspired by The Scarlet Letter, it stars the husky-voiced Emma Stone as Olive, a non-entity until she's overheard fibbing that she lost her virginity to a fictional college boyfriend. As rumours of her promiscuity multiply, she becomes a minor celebrity, a status she revels in – for a while, at least.

Easy A is classier than its peers. Stone's comic timing is reminiscent of Jennifer Aniston's (let's hope her film career turns out rather better), while the clever script has attracted some top-notch actors to the grown-up roles. If only it weren't so proud of this cleverness. I could have done without all the post-modern references to 1980s high-school movies, and while the precocious dialogue isn't quite as irritating as it was in Juno, it's not far off.

The film is also overshadowed by three big questions. Would someone as confident, funny and generally gorgeous as Olive ever be ignored by her fellow pupils? Would a Californian school be turned upside down by a whisper that a 17-year-old had had sex? And would someone as confident, funny etc as Olive be so pleased by her newfound notoriety? As Frankie Howerd was wont to say, the answers are Nay, nay, and thrice nay.

Ironically, there's another film released this week about a life being ruined by false rumours spread by misogynist zealots. Based on Freidoune Sahebjam's non-fiction book, The Stoning of Soraya M. is a fast-moving polemical drama set in an Iranian village in 1986, where a man conspires to get rid of his wife by accusing her of infidelity. Shohreh Aghdashloo is superb as the doomed woman's defiant aunt.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber sees if Burke and Hare can bring director John Landis's career back from the grave

Also Showing: 24/10/2010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (95 mins, PG)

Noble owls battle evil owls in this cartoon adaptation of Kathryn Lasky's novels. The 3D animation is awe-inspiring, but the story is a feather-brained retread of Tolkien and Star Wars, with "use your gizzard" standing in for "use the Force".

Mary & Max (92 mins, 12A)

Bleakly comic claymation from the Australian director of the Oscar-winning short film, Harvie Krumpet. Whimsy and dinginess make a dispiriting mix.

Alpha and Omega (87 mins, U)

Another 3D cartoon, this one concerning a romance between two mismatched wolves. Well below the Pixar/Dreamworks standard.

Africa United (88 mins, 12A)

Five children walk and hitch-hike from Rwanda to South Africa for the World Cup's opening ceremony. It's too corny for adults and there are too many condom references for kids.

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