A lonely pensioner intentionally tears up his checks so he has a recurring excuse to call a particular government pension customer service rep. He likes her voice, and she's willing to talk to him. Then, one day, he's attacked by a hit squad.
Of course, if he were an ordinary government pensioner the movie would end there. But he's really a retired CIA black operative - so he handily dispatches the assassination team. And, as he knows how assassination teams work, he assumes he's been under surveillance, thus all his calls monitored, so his next move is to scoop up the service rep he's been talking with all this time to save her from guaranteed peril. Then drags her along as he tracks down clues to who is behind wanting him dead.
This is a well balanced action/espionage/comedy plus a tad of romance with a stellar ensemble cast: Bruce Willis, just-the-right-kind-of-crazy John Malkovich, still-has-it Hellen Mirren, Brian Cox, Morgan Freeman, Richard Dreyfuss, Karl Urban and Mary-Louise Parker.
Sure everyone seemingly has weapon caches and outstandingly convincing disguises at their fingertips - but we know almost from the moment the action starts we're in for just that sort of over-the-top thrill ride. The film doesn't ever exceed the suspension of disbelief level it asks from you, nor does it continuously keep pushing the line until it breaks. It doesn't approach the over-the-topness of, say, Live Free or Die Hard or The Expendables; it has just enough in the right number of doses for entertainment's sake.
It is based on a 3-issue comic series from DC Comics-owned Wildstorm. Yes, the story has changed up a bit in the transition to movie format, and I'm sure there are comic purists out there that don't appreciate it, but that happens with most print-to-film adaptations. I save my nerdrage for things that are abominations of the source material, not for things that are effective in their own right in the adaptation.
I liked the story, which is a redressed old tale, but not stale in this telling. I liked the film's pacing. The special effects weren't too intrusive or 'fakey'. The cast worked well together and in their roles. Willis is Willis, but he's so good at being Willis. Willis and Parker seemed to have good on-screen chemistry, and Parker held her own next Bruce pretty well. Brian Cox is still the amazing character chameleon. At this point Freeman could just mail in his work but he still delivers. Apparently John C. Reilly was supposed to have the role that Malkovich was in, and I think having Malkovich was the better choice. Mirren not only looked great for her age but she was an assassinating badass to boot. I've seen the Dreyfuss 'bad guy character' before, but his on-screen time is short enough he probably didn't have much to go on except to dust off his stock 'Dreyfuss bad guy personna,' so he can be forgiven. Especially because I know that when that guy does have to perform he delivers.
Everything in this movie worked for me with the right balances of the ensemble cast in play, the action and the comedy. So yes, just sit back and enjoy the ride on this one.
Edit December 2011: Just rewatched this on a premium movie channel. Still very entertaining despite knowing ahead of time how everything unfolds. Scores as well on the rewatchability index as watching the first time.