by HELEN GEIB and NIR SHALEV
Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) was a top CIA black-ops agent back in the day. Now he’s retired and living in Cleveland. The best thing about retirement is tearing up his pension checks so he’ll have an excuse to call his agent Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). However, his newly uneventful routine is suddenly shattered when a hit squad comes to call. Forced to go on the run, Frank must band together with old friends, sometime allies, and onetime enemies- after picking up Sarah on the way- if he’s to have any chance of surviving long enough to get to the bottom of the conspiracy that branded him “RED:” Retired, Extremely Dangerous. Directed by Robert Schwentke from a script by Jon and Erich Hoeber, Red is based on the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, and Brian Cox co-star.
Around the film’s mid-point, after Frank has assembled his team, Morgan Freeman’s character (Frank’s old mentor and fellow bored retiree) quips that they’re getting the band back together. The line captures the spirit of the movie.
Red has the structure, vibe, and fake-postcard scene transitions of a road movie. So the conspiracy yarn is a yawn, the occasional serious moment falls flat, and it doesn’t really add up to much in the end. The road movie is all about the journey, and it’s a hard critic indeed who won’t laugh often and heartily on this trip.
With all due respect to the writers (and there are some funny lines), it’s all in the casting. Willis, whose Frank hides his craziness much more successfully than his pals, plays an admirable straight man. Parker plays Sarah like a woman waiting her whole life to be swept off her feet and into danger by a slightly crazy former spy who’s crazy for her. Malkovich and Cox try their darnedest to steal every scene they’re in, while Mirren steals the movie. Among the motley crew of heroes only Freeman, hampered by the wise elder role, fades somewhat into the background.
There’s action too, and quite a lot of it, but where it isn’t played for laughs, it doesn’t get in the way of the comedy for long.
2 1/2 stars
I like the fact that Red, being based on a DC Comics graphic novel, steps away from the one-man-army-seeking-revenge-against-the-government-that-wants-to-kill-him cliché and replaces it with a middle-aged pensioner who seeks out retirees much older than he is in order to kill the vice president for trying to assassinate him. It’s a thin but fine line between the two aspects. I like that the film never takes itself seriously while at the same time is, surprisingly, character driven; even the action in the film is character driven and each character has a distinctly different way of fighting/killing than the rest. And I also liked that the comedy in the film wasn’t as funny as I’d expected it to be and so the drama, if there truly is any was slightly more impactful.
The story can be summed up in a single and short sentence but the actors in the film never wink at the audience. They smile at each other almost constantly, reminiscing on the good ‘ol days, and remind the audience that it’s a comedy/action film with neat action scenes and humor that comes from characters who don’t know that they’re funny.
There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before, except for a 93 year old Ernest Borgnine who appears to be as fit and healthy as Bruce Willis and Karl Urban, but overall it’s a nice movie. All of the performances are entertaining, my favorite being John Malkovich who plays an ex-CIA operative obsessed with cell phones and helicopters only to actually be right about needing to be paranoid about them, and everyone in the film seems to be having fun. I think that this is the type of film where the audience needs to have as much fun watching it as the cast and crew had making it, and I had fun watching it.
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This year has seen a goodly number of graphic novel adaptations. The Losers played the action-comedy card much less successfully than Red.