RED. Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Rated M (Action violence and infrequent coarse language). 115 min.
This film is an adaptation of “Red”, a US comic book mini-series published in 2003 and 2004, created originally by Warren Ellis and Cullly Hamner. The film is an action-comedy movie, with a touch of romance, but it has a lot more in it than appeared in the comic book series. The title of the movie stands for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”.
The film tells the story of a former CIA agent, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), who is retired, like his old team, Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich), and Victoria (Helen Mirren). He wakes up one night in suburban Ohio to find a hit squad inside his house, trying to kill him. He despatches them all with finesse, but he realises his identity is blown and he fears for the future safety of himself and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the woman he cares for. He galvanises his team to handle the problem. Frank, Joe, Marvin and Victoria were all spies in the past and maybe now a little bored as well. How else would one explain Victoria’s delicately arranging flowers, while also enjoying the sideline activity of being a hit-woman for the thrill of the action? Fearing for Sarah’s life, after the attack, Joe kidnaps her and takes her with him, propelling her into action that is a far cry from her mundane existence as a customer service agent responsible for looking after pension checks. Frank thinks he is being framed for an assignment that went wrong in the 80s, and he has to solve a conspiracy, that somehow involves the Vice President of the US, to clear his name. He uses his team and Sarah to help him do it.
As ex-CIA operatives, Frank, Joe, Marvin and Victoria have led reckless and dangerous lives. They have all killed people in the past (and some in the present). They were all part of vicious killings, treacherous deals, and shady assignments. Frank, living on his tree-lined suburbian street is the most bored of all. Although he is surprised that someone has marked him down for execution, he is secretly happy that he can at last swing back into action with his old team, whose task it is to discover who wants them dead and why. There is plenty of explosive action and lots of shooting throughout the film, but what singles the movie out is the fun the people in it obviously get from working with each other.
Willis is type-cast as the tough guy with a soft heart. Morgan Freeman brings his usual charm and smoothness to bear on the proceedings, and Mirren has a great time bringing her upper-crust British manner to the role of someone with a serious penchant for killing. The action is fast and furious, but it is all done with tongue in cheek, and there are lots of cameo appearances to reinforce the fun. Brian Cox plays the expected Russian agent. Ernest Borgnine is the person whose job is to keep secrets for the CIA, and Richard Dreyfuss enjoys some shady arms dealing. All the time, John Malkovitch, hard to separate from his stuffed pink pig, plays his usual, eccentric self. The film is less an adaptation of a particular comic-book, than a movie which digresses substantially from the original series. It doesn’t reflect it, or satirize it; it is simply out to have a good time, and if anything the actors satirize themselves. The experienced cast in the movie work well together, and Mary-Louise Parker supplies the element of complete confusion that is a good foil to the antics of the others.
This is a movie that has been made to entertain, and it does so unashamedly. The story-line is predictable, and there are not a great number of surprise twists. Any tensions associated with a corrupt Vice President lose out entirely to the lightness of the movie, and many of the action scenes simply don’t know when to let go. The drama and plot-line might be thin, but the cast of famous names performs well under the direction of Robert Schwentke, who allows their comic talents to shine through repeatedly, with the help of a witty script.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Summit Entertainment (Roadshow).
Out October 28, 2010