When it comes to a film like RED, you have to walk into the theater with your tongue pre-inserted in cheek. The previews, trailers and all the promotion for this movie spells out that you’re going to see —a gimmick comedy wrapped in the trappings of an action/adventure flick. Despite the lineup of heavy hitters in the cast, we’re not looking for a lot of depth here.
The storyline (based on a Warren Ellis comic for DC) goes something like this. Retired old-school CIA uber-spy, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), slowly withers on the vine now that he’s no longer in the field. He lives a structured, dull life in some nameless suburb where the high point of his day is flirting with the government drone/employee, Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), who helps him with his pension payments. Suddenly, a team of CIA assassins shows up and fires several million rounds of ammunition into his house. But it’s okay, Frank puts them all down like misbehaving children and then drives to Kansas City to gently kidnap Sarah. Why? He concludes that she’s a target as well, just because he cares for her. Right. This is the point where you realize that David Mamet did not write the script, and you need to suspend your disbelief to an altitude so high that it might collide with on orbiting satellite. If you can do that, you’ll have fun with this film. If not, you’re in for a hair under two hours of being very annoyed.
Following the kidnapping, Frank reunites himself with a collection of geriatric allies, cohorts and enemies to figure out why he’s a target. This includes kindly (but deadly) Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman); lunatic Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich … who steals nearly every scene he’s in); and the prudish (but also deadly) Victoria (Helen Mirren). We also get Russian ambassador Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox) and the guardian of the most-secret-of-secret CIA records (Ernest Borgnine, clocking in at 93 years-old).
Pitted against them is CIA agent William Cooper (Karl Urban) who fills the role of young, talented, but woefully-misguided whipper-snapper. RED also provides us with Richard Dreyfuss as the strutting, over-the-top bad guy.
Crammed tightly into this precariously-constructed plot are countless one-liners, sight gags, chase scenes, fight scenes and love scenes. All of which revolves around the films central conceit: we’re old but we kick ass.
Honestly, RED is as easily consumed as buttered, salted popcorn, but you never get the impression that director Robert Schwentke is shooting for more than that. So, it works. Though some of the gags fall flat, many of them don’t. Mary-Louise Parker’s understated sense of comedy and timing works very nicely against Willis’ intentionally heavy-handed approach to his tough-guy personna. And John Malkovich … —let me put it this way—if someone ever films a geriatric version of the A-Team, then Malkovich will make the perfect “Howling Mad” Murdock. As a cherry-on-top sight gag, RED also gives you Helen Mirren firing a 50-caliber machine gun in a slinky evening gown.
Speaking of Helen Mirren, while the love interest between Frank and Sarah is supposed to get the spotlight, it’s really the love story between Victoria and Ivan that rings true. Mirren and Cox give us some of the most poignant and genuine scenes in the movie, which makes for a nice break, considering the rest of the film is not especially deep.
If you’re looking for something that’s both fun and disposable, then RED is the perfect movie for you. This is a perfect example of an action movie that doesn’t take itself seriously and consistently brings the oddball humor.
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Written by: Jon and Erich Hoeber
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary Louise-Parker, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Karl Urban, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss.
Run Time: 1hr 51min
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