Friday, March 25, 2011


Directed by Robert Schwentke.
2010. Rated PG-13, 111 minutes
Bruce Willis
Mary-Louise Parker
John Malkovich
Morgan Freeman
Helen Mirren
Karl Urban
Brian Cox
Julian McMahon
Richard Dreyfuss
Ernest Borgnine

Karl Urban

Frank (Willis) is a retired CIA agent who has taken a shine to Sarah (Parker), a telephone customer service rep. Soon enough, he suddenly makes his way to her apartment in Kansas City because the agency is apparently out to kill him for something we don’t yet know and to kill her pretty much just because. Since she doesn’t really know Frank, other than their frequent phone conversations, he has to drag her along, kicking and screaming. Traipsing across the country, narrowly escaping death while getting “the band” back together to help him figure thing thing out ensues.

The band is made up of other former black-ops specialists from various organizations that comprise Frank’s friends. There’s Marvin (Malkovich) who is so paranoid, he lives underground. Joe (Freeman) scopes out nurses at the rest home where he resides. Finally, there’s Victoria (Mirren). She’s a foxy older lady who has a thing for high-caliber firearms.

Red does what it does well enough that we can overlook what it is not so good at. It’s good at letting its cast use their familiar personas to draw laughter. Malkovich is particularly effective here, at his neurotic best. It’s good at keeping us guessing what’s really going on without becoming bogged down with maintaining the suspense. It is also surprisingly good at action, given that most of the cast is well beyond their physical primes. Though longtime action hero Willis does have a number of bright spots, its Mirren who shines brightest in this area. Thankfully, we don’t see her trying to perform any superhuman feats. That would be laughable, in a bad way. Instead, she does things she can be reasonably expected to and makes them infinitely more watchable than they should be. Her irrepressible presence makes her compelling in any role. When that is combined with the affinity most action fans have for gunfire, she’s doubly so. Her character also provides us with an interesting subplot about something from her past that may become her present.

What this movie doesn’t do well is develop its characters. For the most part, it skips that task. It prefers to rely on the fact that we expect certain things from each other and tries its darndest to give it to us. It never feels like we’re watching Frank, Marvin, Joe and Victoria. We’re always watching Bruce Willis from the Die Hard movies, John Malkovich from his Coen brothers flicks, Morgan Freeman the wise old sage and Helen Mirren the regal British lady. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just renders the movie a bit shallow. Then again, I think shallow may be the point.

Recently, there have been a slew of similarly themed movies. Though this doesn’t revel in its own ridiculousness quite the way The A-Team does, I find it just as enjoyable. It finds its own level of plausible absurdity and runs with it. It’s what The Expendables tries to be and what The Losers can only dream of being.

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