Some actors can pull off any film you stick them in. I’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t like Bruce Willis (even after Surrogates), Helen Mirren (who looks hotter in a red bikini than I ever will), Morgan Freeman (whose voice weakens knees) and John Malkovich (mostly evil, always cool). Make the four of them ex-CIA agents, trying to keep themselves alive after a case from their past comes to light, and you get action-packed quality that could boast the stupidest script ever and you’d still watch it. Luckily, it’s not the stupidest script ever either.
Adapted from Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner’s comic, Red opens with retired agent Frank Moses (Willis) waking up and moving around the house to the kind of jaunty soundtrack that opens an indie character piece. He gets on the phone to Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), who deals with his pension cheques and who shares with Frank a shy, fledgling phone-relationship. Then, in one incredibly destructive scene—why use a wrecking ball to destroy a house when enough people with machine guns could do the same?—Frank is forced to escape, get help, and assist the girl he has a crush on—and who he has been endangering just by talking to her.
Moses rustles up old friends and foe, from nursing-home-bound rascal Joe Matheson (Freeman) to the bonkers Marvin Boggs (Malkovich), living alone on an island, hiding in trees and paranoid only in the sense that occasionally he is wrong that people are out to get him. Add to the mix the elegant Victoria (Mirren) and Russian agent Ivan (Manhunter’s Lector-playing Brian Cox, who has amusingly been in a previous movie called Red), and you have one of the most elderly death squads since the other day when I went to see The Expendables. Except that instead of oversized biceps and hilarious hair, it was more oversized talent and hilarious jokes. Well, corny jokes.
The story itself was not quite as twisty as expected, being a fairly straight action movie with all the requisite one-liners and romance. The audience around laughed so hard and loud at the most obvious jokes (and a lot were signposted) that I was beginning to wonder if I’d stumbled into an audience of people that had never actually seen a film before, and then I thought I was a bit of a monster for analysing why a crowd would laugh at a joke. If this movie had been filmed with up-and-coming actors, it would have barely made it to theatre—not to say it’s terrible plot-wise, but really, this is a movie to see for the acting alone.
Bruce Willis plays exactly what you imagine of him—a tough guy, but a bit old (though he doesn’t really look it) and gone all soft for Parker’s Sarah, who he kidnaps to save her. Parker does a wonderful job of actually doing her best to escape from a guy she had previously been into but who now appears to be a criminal, but then starts to enjoy the ride he’s taken her on—though it never seems contrived (well, in an entirely contrived movie, but she still does a convincing job of it.) Malkovich is only a year or two older than Willis, but with a proper amount of crazy white hair he looks sufficiently old and batshit, and is absolute fun as Boggs, jumpy and watchful and who was the subject of LSD experiments in his past. Morgan Freeman doesn’t get enough time on screen, but as a sneakily dignified gent, fools everyone. Much has been said of Helen Mirren shooting people with a machine gun and how awesome that is, and let me tell you internets, it is. She was the Queen of England, and now she’s shooting CIA agents and you’re cheering her on. On the youth front, Karl Urban, current CIA agent and the man who doesn’t have the full story but is trying to stop Frank from killing everyone, works nicely from a fairly bland beginning to a much more emotive ending, though he does get the shit kicked out of him at one point but then appears the next day with barely a scratch on his previously swollen and bloody face. His motivations are also tricky to decipher, but oh, who cares. It’s an action comedy. And he’s pretty cute.
In summary: Meets Expectations. Predictable and silly, but great fun.