Review: RED

No genre has defined 2010 like the group-centric comedy-infused action flick that pits betrayed special agents/soldiers against “the man.” So the only chance “RED” had at standing out was to rise above the formula at the hands of an acting core whose mean age would qualify for a senior discount to see said film. In honesty, it doesn’t succeed at being more special, but what “RED” achieves that many of its kin this year did not is pull it off with a definitive sense of class.

Although hardly as hysterical as it ought to have been, “RED” combines likable faces and smart direction well enough so that the recycled premise doesn’t nag at you for too long. Robert Schwentke (“Flightplan,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife”) takes the style of the film in various directions from goofy action comedy to more serious revenge thriller, but the key is that he never crosses the line into eye-rolling territory; no one walks away from an explosion his film.

Bruce Willis stars as retired CIA operative Frank Moses, whose existence has been reduced to phone conversations with the woman that sends him his government check (Mary-Louise Parker). That changes quickly when Frank’s home is reduced to Swiss cheese by the very agency he worked for. Realizing he and this “woman” are in jeopardy, he kidnaps her and while on the run, finds his old friends (other retired agents) to piece together what’s going on. The gist is that Frank’s been deemed “Retired, Extremely Dangerous” because he’s still got some juice left in the tank and the government — as per usual these days — has some dirty laundry to which Frank is connected.

The mess leads Frank to attempt to break into Langley and eventually try and kill the vice president of the United States — which should give you a sense that much of the film is “old(er) guys kicking ass.” Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren all join the fray as retired-but-deadly compadres when Frank enlists their help.

They’re a likable group; even for those with a smaller Malkovich threshold will enjoy him playing the insane, paranoid character and Freeman and Mirren flaunt their usual charms. At the same time, with Malkovich as the exception, the group is more lovable than hysterical — as much as you expect them to play against type, they don’t really, though Mirren with a machine gun is refreshing. It’s part of the dual nature of “RED;” sometimes its focused on comedy and amusing action and other times more serious action coupled with dramatic performance.

As for the “young-uns,” Parker, famous for her starring role on Showtime’s “Weeds,” manages to bring a unique flavor to the role of “clueless female lead stuck in the vortex of bullets and explosions against her will initially but not later in the film.” Karl Urban (“Star Trek”) plays the usually not-so-distinguished role of CIA agent hunting the REDs down, except he actually has a multi-dimensional story line. Jon and Erich Hoeber’s script was a good find for Urban, whose star will continue to rise.

“RED” also has a wealth of cameos from beloved older actors that much like the rest of the film, aren’t hysterical, but make the film ultimately more enjoyable. Whereas many films based on comics are aiming now for lesser-known talents and conventional thought says that packing a film with a ridiculous amount of stars is overkill, “RED” comes out and proves once again that there’s great comfort in a familiar face, especially seasoned veterans. We enjoy seeing them have fun with less sophisticated roles, even if their performances don’t rate with the anticipation of them crossing a genre line. Without a doubt, however, it makes today’s most used and abused Hollywood action formula much more tolerable.

3.5/5 Stars

Directed by Robert Schwentke
Written by Jon and Erich Hoeber, Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner (comic)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Karl Urban


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