reviews\ Oct 15, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Red (film) review


Films such as Taken and The Expendables have proven there's a market for action films of a geriatric persuasion. It would seem inevitable for a studio to try and up the ante with considerable Academy and Emmy award nominated muscle. With Red, you've got Helen Mirren, Ernest Borgnine, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Dryfuss (that's three Academy Award winners by the way). Even the Bourne trilogy's Brian Cox and Karl Urban are in this, and of course there is Bruce Willis to help fill the multiplexes.

The film starts in endearing fashion as Willis' character, Frank Moses, spends his dull suburban retirement lifestyle nursing his crush on Sarah, a pension services rep who is equally bored in a cubicle where the wallpaper is made up postcards from places she would love to travel to. Of course Sarah does get what she wishes for, although it does come with some unexpected bondage. That is because Frank's CIA past has come to haunt him in the form of a bullet-riddled shower on his house. Specialist that he is, he knows that whoever is after him knows about Sarah, so naturally he kidnaps her. In trying to figure out his assailants' motivations, he meets up with his former covert ops colleagues, all played convincingly by Freeman, Malkovich and Mirren.

As the middle-aged version of the A-Team, Malkovich's Marvin fills the Murdoch role nicely. The man has played his share of off-kilter characters before so it's not a stretch for someone such as Marvin to be as paranoid as he is, with conspiracy theory ramblings added in for a nice touch. To his credit Malkovich does a great job in making most of the audience unsure on how crazy Marvin really is.

Those unfamiliar with the film's graphic novel roots will need just 20 minutes to realize how Red was intended to have its share of cartoon-like moments. This occurs when Marvin confronts an incoming rocket with unrealistic gunplay that is more than just a hint of bravado. Red does not seek to be realistic and how could it when former agents are strategically hitting live grenades as if they were a baseball.

Willis also performs in a few action scenes of course, which play out slightly more like Jason Bourne than John McClane. We get to see a bit of Frank's government-trained ingenuity as well as his near-flawless fighting skills, with Urban often at the receiving end of Frank's fists and pile drivers. It's a mixed blessing that these action sequences are expertly choreographed and edited; the downside is that Willis pretty much stops fighting by the end of the first half of the film.

The juxtaposition of Sarah's listless livelihood against Frank's former life as a globetrotting CIA operative is one of the many cues that lend to Red's predictability. Another example is Mirren's character, Victoria, who has been able to cope with own her comfortable living by taking on the odd contract killing. There is something to be said about Queen Elizabeth II handling a machine gun with a sense of familiarity. It's an intrinsically humorous image that will please girls-with-guns fetishists and has been the clip of choice by the marketing folks at Summit Entertainment. Last but not least, many of the twists can be seen a mile away by any Ocean's Eleven fan and those who love spy films.

Nevertheless, Red does have an undeniable charm, much of which is due to Mary Louise Parker's magnetic personality and doe-eyed reactions. Actually, her youthful vibe does inadvertently contrast against the implication of Frank's age while being a retiree as well. This age difference, combined with the on-screen kissing, left a few audience members indifferent. This reaction was affirmed by John Malkovich's facial response, which pretty much spelled out "Ewww!"

The film's charm also extends to scenes involving Cold War-era reminiscence. It delivers its share of laughs and makes light of James Bond/Tom Clancy story troupes. Soviet versus America grudges are long forgotten and there's even a chance for rekindling love on the battlefield.

Freeman's character Joe waxes on how a retirement home appears to be his downfall, not Vietnam or the Middle East like he imagined. At least his character does pull off a role of man who would rather go down guns blazing than go down due to Stage 4 liver cancer.

Most films that try to be too many things fail miserably from the ensuing schizophrenia. Robert Schwentke's fine directorial work on Red effectively balances out the comedy, romance and action in convincingly cohesive style even if the screenplay could have benefited from a few more punchy lines. It's not as smart as Grosse Pointe Blank and not as over the top as True Lies, but is worth a viewing for most fans of both movies.


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