Thursday, April 3, 2014

Red (2010)

Director: Robert Schwentke                               Writers: John Hoeber & Eric Hoeber
Film Score: Christophe Beck                             Cinematography: Florian Ballhaus
Starring: Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman

Evidently old solders don’t just fade away. In this film, based on a graphic novel, old CIA agents still have a lot left in the tank. Their designation, Retired, Extremely Dangerous, is the acronym that gives the film its name: Red. On its own the story might not have amounted to much, but bringing onboard the considerable talents of Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman makes it something worth watching. Willis, especially, in his ability to send up his action hero image, is what really makes the idea work. Superficially the plot resembles Space Cowboys, only the comedy is much broader and not meant to be taken seriously, and the “comic book” context means that it eliminates much of the suspense, even with what happens to Freeman and Mirren later in the story. But for all that it’s an incredibly enjoyable romp that keeps the action and the locations moving lest the audience realize how ridiculous the whole thing is.

The film begins with Bruce Willis waking up at exactly six o’clock in the morning . . . without benefit of the alarm clock. He exercises, eats breakfast, takes the garbage out, and collects his mail. After receiving a government check he gets on the phone to call up a government help line and talks to Mary-Louise Parker. It’s clear from their conversation that they’ve spoken before and have a relationship that has nothing to do with his pension. But while Willis is retired, he’s certainly not lacking in vigilance. When an assassination team comes to the house, he gets the better of them and escapes, heading directly to Parker in order to save her from assassination too. Meanwhile CIA head Rebecca Pidgeon gives special agent Karl Urban the job of cleaning up the failed assassination attempt and tying up the loose ends. When Willis gets to Parker’s house and she find him already inside one night, her suspicion overtakes her infatuation and he’s forced to kidnap her to keep her from being killed. She, of course, doesn’t see it that way but predictably comes to enjoy the excitement of it all.

Along the way to discovering who is after him and why, Willis enlists the help of some old friends. Morgan Freeman, slowly dying in an assisted living home, relishes the chance to escape and do something meaningful. Sharp shooter Helen Mirren admits she’s been doing black bag jobs on the side for foreign governments, and paranoiac John Malkovich is happy to come out of hiding in order to eliminate the threats he perceives, whether real or imagined. Also along is Brian Cox as the former Soviet agent who has a very special reason for helping the team. Richard Dreyfuss is a wealthy industrialist and the key to uncovering who is behind the assassinations, and in a wonderful cameo role is the great Ernest Borgnine who is the keeper of the secret records in Langley. Ultimately Red is a film for fans of the actors, of the graphic novel, and of action/adventure comedies. While it’s not a great film, it’s not trying to be, but it is entertaining which is more than a lot of films can claim.

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