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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Film Review - Red (2010)

To be honest, I expected to hate this movie. I went into it thinking it was going to be a boring and derivative action flick, but I was surprised to find that Red does have moments that are clever and entertaining. The idea is to have a cast that kicks ass while qualifying for social security. The result is an often funny action film that shines at times but still manages to shy away from being a great film.

The plot follows Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA operative who has casual conversations with a pension office worker named Sarah (played by Mary-Louise Parker) over the phone. Frank is in love with Sarah, and after he is attacked by a group of assassins, he pays her a visit and, when Sarah is frightened by his intrusion, he kidnaps her. While trying to figure out who tried to kill him, he also figures out that his relationship with Sarah, who has now forgiven Frank after he rescues her from an attempted assassination, has endangered her. They travel to New Orleans, then to Pensacola, to meet up with old members of a team and learn that the Vice President, who has a horrible past, is planning on running for President and is ordering the assassination of anyone who can connect him to a war crime he committed in his early years.

The team is comprised of Frank, Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) as they storm the Vice President’s campaign announcement party. This leads to the film’s final major action scene, which is sort of weak to be honest. And this is sort of the way Red works. The screenplay is pretty good as there are some funny lines and the actors seem perfectly cast for their parts. None of them, except Morgan Freeman, really seems to be out of their element. But it does kind of hang there at times and most of the action set pieces aren’t very exciting. I believe this is because when filming Red it was assumed that the fact that the people engaging in these scenes are old is inherently funny. It kind of is, but that they really just threw their hands up for the action is a little sad.

Freeman is not really known for his roles in action flicks and in this film he is more or less a bystander during the film’s more kinetic moments. In fact, he’s barely in the movie, so the idea to make him a top-bill is obviously a marketing ploy. Helen Mirren easily steals every scene she is in as she is quite possibly the most talented actress working today, and also the sexiest actress over sixty to ever grace the big screen. She delivers her lines with grace and style that upstages everyone else here. John Malkovich is also good as an insane, paranoid agent who is both a brilliant operative and a loose cannon. Mary-Louise Parker is also good, as she is the audience’s “normal person” connection to the plot, and though she is mainly used as a plot device, she is funny and gives it her all. Lastly, there is Bruce Willis, who is actually pretty boring in this movie. He seems to be sleeping through his role and really just relinquishes the screen to the other, more energetic performances given by his costars. This is disappointing as Willis is a talented actor and I’m not sure if this was all him, or if it was a directorial/writing decision.

Given that this is really just a potboiler, it is a surprisingly fun adaptation of a graphic novel from DC. It’s certainly better than Watchmen and is a more or less harmless action flick that most fans of the genre and “simpler” forms of cinema will get some enjoyment out of. Hell, I found myself enjoying much of the dialogue and the performances by Mirren and Malkovich are quite good given everything else around them. This is the kind of film where you know most of the cast was just having fun with the material. This emotion comes off and imprints itself on the watcher and, thus, the watcher also has fun with the cast. It’s a good movie for a weekend and while it isn’t perfect, most audiences will find enjoyment in its antics. It is also a great way to introduce younger audiences to bodies of work from the elder cast members (which also includes Richard Dreyfuss and Ernest Borgnine), as the stars’ cumulative works contain some of the best films of the last twenty years, and of all time.

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