Red (2010) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for language and violence
Running time: 138 min.
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Urban, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ernest Borgnine, Julian McMahon, James Remar
Director: Robert Schwentke
Screenplay: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber (based on the comic by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner)
Review published July 23, 2013
Based on the DC comic book, the "RED" of the title is actually an anagram for "Retired - Extremely Dangerous", which is exactly what this quartet of ex-CIA agents are, especially when they are being targeted by this very agency.
Bruce Willis (Cop Out, Surrogates) gets the most screen time as Frank Moses, the ex-spook whom we see adjusting, mostly awkwardly, to retired life from the agency. All he can do these days to hold his interest is to flirt with a woman he's never seen, Sarah (Parker, The Spiderwick Chronicles), the phone operator whom he calls in order to deal with his pension payments. However, Frank puts her life in danger when he gets caught up in a plot that involves his potential assassination, so he kidnaps her (for her own good) and sets about protecting themselves just long enough to gather up a fighting force skilled enough to counter the conspiratorial elements against them. There's Joe (Freeman, The Dark Knight), the ailing ex-cohort who is reluctant to give up his R&R. Next is Marvin (Malkovich, Burn After Reading), the extremely paranoid conspiracy theorist who is relieved to know that, finally, he's right that someone may be out to get them. Lastly, there's Victoria (Mirren, State of Play), a supremely skilled assassin not quite yet past her prime, and her former lover, the Russian agent Ivan (Cox, Running with Scissors).
Like The Expendables, Red pits together a crew of film veterans as an elder crew of bad-asses who take on skilled armies of fighters half their ages. As with the Stallone film, director Schwentke's (The Time Traveler's Wife, Flightplan) employs the "getting the band back together" formula, complete with that exact phrase, whereby a former crew of cronies are gathered one by one in order to get one last hurrah doing what they do best, namely, kick some major ass with a variety of increasingly more explosive weapons.
A likeable cast, many of whom are former Oscar winners, enliven a not-as-clever-as-they-think-it-is script by screenwriting brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber (Whiteout, Battleship), but not quite enough to overcome the overly familiar plotline to make the film anything more than a pleasant but unremarkable time-waster. It does help that none of the cast appears to be taking the tired plotline seriously, and there is fun in seeing these likeable stars getting to cut loose in an over-the-top action-thriller, particularly Helen Mirren as the elegantly dressed, cold-blooded killer.
The weakest link is Mary-Louise Parker playing the useless potential love interest that is reminiscent of the Cameron Diaz role in Knight and Day, in which the lonely single woman finds a love of adventure through being kidnapped and protected by a highly-skilled fighter who has a thing for her. Her would-be romance with Willis is not convincing, and it doesn't help that her character is ditsy and grating, and then eventually just becomes a non-issue as the easily identifiable climax target for the bad guys. If it weren't just enjoyable for seeing some of your favorite actors cut loose, you might be modestly entertained; this one-note feature would be far worse with unknown actors.
-- Followed by Red 2 (2013).
©2011, 2013 Vince Leo