Directed By: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Urban, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, Helen Mirren
Is it possible for a film starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren to be bad? Maybe, but if you put handguns, machine guns and grenade launchers in theirs hands and give them some snappy dialogue to work with, you’re basically home free.
What happens when a highly skilled CIA agent retires? He’s labeled RED, short for Retired and Extremely Dangerous and there’s really no better way to describe retiree Frank Moses (Willis). He’s doing okay in a cozy suburban town, decorating his house for the holiday like he’s supposed to, but the highlight of his day is calling a particular federal pension employee, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). He calls on a regular basis to report missing checks, but the two simply enjoy talking to each other. Unfortunately for Sarah, Frank’s house is bugged and after narrowly escaping an ambush, he knows the bad guys will head straight to her place.
Having no choice, Sarah reluctantly tags along with Frank as he visits all of his old CIA pals. First stop? Joe (Freeman) who now calls an old aged facility home. Next up is Marvin (Malkovich), a wacky, but skilled ex-agent who’s convinced the government is out to get him. Then there’s Ivan (Brian Cox), a former Russian spy who has a history with the team’s last member, Victoria (Mirren), an elegant ex-MI6 agent. Now that the gang’s all back together, it’s time to take out the bad guys; some nasty folks who don’t want them to spread a little secret.
What’s their little secret? It’s got something to do with an operation in Guatemala gone wrong, but that doesn’t really matter anyway. All that matters is this is a bunch of older agents who still love to play with big guns and make things explode. Part of the fun of watching the crew crush their enemies is definitely due to the fact that the characters are played by some of the biggest and best Hollywood has to offer. A punch to the face by Freeman might not seem realistic and Mirren trotting rather than running for her life from enemy agents looks a little absurd, but for the sake of sheer entertainment, it’s passable.
Making the action even more of a blast, Schwentke really knows what he’s doing behind the lens. The camera almost never stops moving creating the sensation that you’re literally along for the ride. He takes this technique a little too far at times causing a handful of cuts to be a bit jarring, but for the most part, it’s quite effective. He also manages to capture a significant amount of fantastic visuals. In fact, on occasion, the film’s laughs actually stem from Schwentkes staging and camera angle.
The only problem with making moments wildly fast-paced and hilarious is that when things slow down and story elements need to be explained or emotion evoked, it’s easy to become bored. It’s not that these are really too slow, they just don’t gel well with the combat scene. However, what actually does make these portions dull is the plot. The concept of senior citizen killers is fantastic, but there’s just so far it can take you.
The notion is spiced up quite a bit thanks to Parker’s character. Not only does she having an impressive amount of chemistry with Willis, but their bantering for the first 45 minutes of the film is fresh, clever and at times downright hilarious. As the story progresses she can go a little over the top teetering into the land of bumbling female sidekicks, but for the most part, she’s a joy to watch on screen.
Sadly, the same isn’t true for Cooper (Karl Urban), the CIA agent who’s on Frank’s tail from the start. Urban waltzes through cliché land himself pouring on the evil sneers and squints, but it’s not entirely his fault; his character is just poorly developed. He’s portrayed as being so inhumane at the onset of the film any attempt to humanize Cooper later on fails completely and is quite confusing. Even worse, it’s his part of the story that’s really lacking. The reason the gang is being hunted doesn’t really make sense. On the other hand, perhaps it does, but it might take multiple viewings to get all of the facts straight.
Typically an weak story would be a killer, but even having not understood all the details and recognizing that ones you did understand were downright ludicrous, Red is still a madly enjoyable ride. We’re talking an indestructible Bruce Willis, a loaded pig touting John Malkovich, a machinegun blasting Helen Mirren and quick-shooting Morgan Freeman. Add on a truckload of humor and a barrage of gunfire and the tacky lines, lack of emotion and senseless plot go practically unnoticed.
By Perri Nemiroff