Directed by Robert Schwentke
Based on the D.C. Comics graphic series by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, Red is a fast moving, energetic, explosive, good-natured, occasionally violent and occasionally subversive action-comedy. It never takes itself too seriously, never cheats by being too jokey, and while it requires you to suspend your disbelief, it never seems moronic.
Red actually stands for “Retired and Extremely Dangerous” — the monicker given to the characters played by Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren – all who used to be the CIA’s top agents but now, the Agency’s top targets. Similar to Sneakers (1992), the gang of retirees get together for a new job. Framed for assassination, they must use all of their collective cunning, experience and teamwork
to stay one step ahead of their deadly predators. Along the way the team embarks on an impossible, cross-country mission to break into the top-secret CIA headquarters, where they will uncover one of the biggest conspiracies and cover-ups in government history.
Scripted by Jon and Erich Hoeber (Flightplan, The Time Traveller’s Wife), the screenwriter siblings abandon the gritty tone of the original source material for a light fun Hollywood blockbuster. The plot is a twisting affair – a series of creaky narrative half-steps about a conspiracy involving a series of executions and a cover-up in Guatemala dating back to 1982. Not surprising, the plot gets progressively routine and conventional. But story isn’t what sells the movie. The convoluted plot is just an excuse to set up action scenes and amusing encounters between several Oscar winners. Despite flaws in the storytelling and the bumpy transitions in shifting of the tone, it’s the comedic elements and the high-caliber of acting that are far more significant to making Red an entertaining watch.
Chief among the pleasures of Red, is the irresistibly appealing formidable and Academy award winning actors, well past their prime but giving The Expendables a run for their money. The image of Helen Mirren alone elevates the proceedings. Mirren, steals the show, elegantly dressed in an impeccable form fitted white evening gown, wielding a M-60 machine gun. Bruce Willis delivers his ageless brand of action cool, while Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine serves up a winning cameo and the ever awesome Brian Cox harkens back to the good old days of Cold War double-crossing as a Russian spy and x-lover to Mirren’s Victoria. The cast bring finesse and nuance to their performances but the real shine comes from Malkovich as Marvin Boggs, a conspiracy-minded paranoiac living in an underground bunker that can only be accessed through a hollowed-out car. Malkovich brings an unhinged goofiness that’s hilarious and unsettling but has a great time hamming it up. In one of the movie’s best scenes he chases down the vice president wearing a suicide-bomber belt screaming like a madman. Meanwhile Morgan Freeman adds a measure of grace and gravitas to counterbalance his performance. Unfortunately two of Red’s numerous missteps is the casting of Mary-Louise Parker who spends two hours astonished and staring wide-eyed at the 007 surroundings. The second blunder is the lack of a truly menacing and memorable villain. The solution to the mystery of who is after them and why is disappointing and the evildoer pulling the strings does nothing surprising towards the end.
The film requires a lighter, defter touch than director Robert Schwentke’s previous effort, The Time Traveler’s Wife. The action is busy with plenty of wisecracking in between and sometimes during. Schwentke’s visual approach is reminiscent of Zach Synder (the now default style of fanboy filmmaking), and as the leader of the action packed mayhem, Schwentke is the anti-Michael Bay- directing large, complicated set-pieces in which you can always follow the action clearly and you always know where every characters is. The high-power pyrotechnics are terrific especially in an early sequence in which Bruce Willis’ home is sprayed by bullets so powerful, they knock down the entire front wall. Schwentke repeatedly puts his characters into cliffhanger scenarios from which there appears to be no possible escape and in another neat stunt, Willis steps out of his car as it spins out of control. But it’s not all good. Eventually Red overstays its welcome, and the movie’s plot is resolved in a disappointingly mundane scene that is the textbook definition of anti-climactic. This is also the sort of film in which characters get shot and just brush off the injury as if it were a paper cut. On the plus side, Red is handsomely mounted by a creative production team, which includes cinematographer Florian Ballhaus, Oscar-winning editor Thom Noble (Thelma & Louise), both who have collaborated with director Schwentke on previous projects.
There’s no need to feel guilty about praising Red. As an exercise for movie stars of a certain age, it sure surpasses The Expendables.
– Ricky D