“They don’t make them like that anymore.” While acting legend Ernest Borgnine makes this remark about a former CIA agent played by Bruce Willis, he could have easily said this about himself. His role in Red is at best a glorified cameo, reserved to overseeing the secret documents at CIA headquarters in Washington, but the casting choice shows that the filmmakers went the extra mile in finding the right old coot for the job.
This action-comedy won’t linger around in your head for an extended period of time. It’s enjoyable, but its release comes on the heels of three other “men on a mission” movies this year. But it is the actors involved that gives it distinction. Red might not have the biggest explosions, but the entertainment is so fun that’s it’s easy to forget that most of the cast is carrying AARP cards. As escapism, older audiences now have the chance to suspend disbelief and totally ignore how these aging actors can perform some of the stuff they are asked to do.
In the ‘80s, Bruce Willis redefined the model of the action star with his role as John McClane in Die Hard. Over the last twenty years, he has remained a staple to the genre and shows in Red (which is an acronym for the phrase “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”) that he hasn’t lost his touch. Playing a retired CIA agent is a walk in the park for him. But the remaining cast is a bunch of unusual suspects. God, The Queen of England, Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom, Meyer Lansky, Hannibal Lecktor (the original), and the commander of McHale’s navy. Lessening the median age of those involved is the star of Weeds, David Mamet’s wife and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek).
The name of the game is spelled C-I-A. Every movie with a team concept this year has been directly tied to the CIA. Usually it involves an agent that’s gone rogue. This time the CIA is sent out in hit squad fashion to liquidate old assets. There are some dirty government bureaucrats, a decades-old conspiracy, and lots of bullets along the way. Everything is told with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Suffering boredom in Cleveland, Frank Morse (Willis) is having a friendly conversation with a woman (Mary-Louise Parker) at the start of Red. Judging by the tone of the exchange they have a history of phone conversations with one another. Her name is Sarah Ross and she handles Morse’s government pension check problems from her office cubicle in Kansas City. However, that problem is just the tip. Soon, a hit team tries to take Frank out just before the Christmas holidays. Retirement may mean more medication and a propensity to strain while going to the bathroom, but it hasn’t slowed down Frank’s elusiveness or accurate trigger finger. Unaware of Frank’s reputation is agent William Cooper (Karl Urban), who is assigned to pursuit.
Working fast, Frank travels to Kansas City to voluntarily kidnap Sarah, who is in danger because of her relationship with him. Needing help, Frank begins to reacquaint himself with members of his old team: Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), who is quietly rotting away in a retirement community; Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), a paranoid nut who loves the element of surprise; Victoria (Helen Mirren), a former MI6 mink who would rather take the odd assassination job than play bridge; and a Cold War relic (Brian Cox), who enjoys the ironic turn of events of helping Americans get back at the Central Intelligence Agency.
Together the team tries to uncover the person or persons who want them dead.
Even if Red wasn’t based on a comic-book series, it very well could inspire one. The overall tone is light with plenty of action. The interaction between the characters, specifically John Malkovich and the rest of team, is the type of wisecracking quips one would expect to read in word balloons in each comic panel. Robert Schwentke’s filmography varies from Flightplan and The Time Traveler’s Wife, but here he is able to successfully blend comedy with action. Though, it may all be on account of the thespians in the cast. Red doesn’t feel like a “paycheck grab” for the actors involved. Every role is defined and the performances work. Besides, who wouldn’t pay to see Helen Mirren sizing up her opponents behind a .50 caliber rifle?
Red was one of the surprises that came out of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Summit Entertainment, the studio responsible (or is it irresponsible?) for The Twilight Saga, is hoping that this action-comedy is a hit for fall. Willis still hasn’t lost that macho swagger he gained as John McClane, and with commanding screen presences like Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren getting trigger happy, Red is an unavoidable form of entertainment this fall.
Director: Robert Schwentke
Notable Cast: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, Karl Urban, Ernest Borgnine, Rebecca Pidgeon
Writer(s): Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber, based on the graphic novels by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner