This movie really shouldn't work, and not all of it does, but when it is working you'll have a smile from ear to ear as some of our country's most distinguished stars (and Bruce Willis) take on a government hit man. Red is loosely based on the graphic novel written by Warren Ellis and penciled by Cully Hamner, but if comic book movies aren't your thing, don't worry because Red feels more like an episode of Burn Notice than The Dark Knight.
Red is an acronym for "retired, extremely dangerous," which is how the CIA describes former agent Frank Moses, played by a bored-looking Bruce Willis. He lives a lonely life in retirement; the only person he ever speaks with is Sarah, played by Mary-Louise Parker, who works at his pension agency in Kansas City. Every month he tears up his pension check and acts like it never arrived just so he has a reason to call her. A hit squad attempts to murder Willis at his home so he runs to Kansas City and kidnaps Sarah to keep her safe while they try to figure out who's after them and why. Bruce enlists the help of Morgan Freeman (doing his best Morgan Freeman impression), who leads them to John Malkovich (looking eerily like Jamie Lee Curtis in this), who plays Marvin, an ex-operative who was fed LSD for 11 years and has gone off the grid and become a paranoid conspiracy theorist living in an underground bunker. Every single word that Malkovich utters in this film is gold and makes it worth the admission price. This is his best work since Being John Malkovich or Burn After Reading.
Eventually they hook up with Helen Mirren and a criminally underused Brian Cox to catch the bad guys. By the end it's not the plot you remember (which is silly at best, boring at worst) but the amazing cast. Karl Urban, who could have been just a one-note heavy, but colored his work with a sympathy that's rare in movies of this genre. Also, a Dick Cheney-esque Richard Dreyfuss hams it up all over the place and Ernest Frigging Borgnine pops up in a cameo that instantly made me want to re-watch The Wild Bunch. When the movie ends, all you want is to see more adventures starring this cast, but not in this movie.
For one thing, Robert Schwentke, director of Flightplan (or as I call it, that movie where Jodie Foster yells at people for two hours) brings no visual flair to this movie at all. It feels low budget and flat even when things are blowing up and, aside from an exhilarating hand-to-hand fight scene between Willis and Urban, every single bit of action in this film was in the trailers. The movie has horrible pacing issues since every scene feels like it's either racing to get to the next one or at a complete standstill while Willis struggles to open his eyes all the way. But then when you're about to give up, Helen Mirren starts shooting Uzis at people and Malkovich gets all Jason Bourne-meets- Ken Kesey up in everybody's face.
This film feels like a wonderful cast (and Bruce Willis) getting the best of a plodding script and a mediocre director. You might not be seeing Mirren as a queen or Freeman as a free man, but you'll see them with a light in their eyes and a fire in their bellies that you might not have seen for a long time. The trailers for this movie play up the advanced age of the characters, but their age never once becomes an issue in the film. No one ever stops a gunfight because they have to pee, or has to put on glasses before rocking a sniper rifle. Everyone in the film is still at the top of their game, age be damned.
Starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich,
Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban
Directed By Robert Schwentke