Sometimes a movie isn’t what you expect it to be. I’m sure most of us have seen the trailers (or seen the movie!) for Red by now. Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich playing retired CIA agents who become the target of assassination attempts, so they all get together to find out what’s going on and fight back. That plot is pretty generic of course, BUT, with that cast? I was in favor of checking it out. It turns out that “the plot is generic” is actually a pretty generous statement. Red’s plot really only serves to get the razor-sharp cast from one insane situation to the next. If you can forget logic and just enjoy good actors doing awesome things, Red becomes pretty enjoyable.
I hate to instantly compare this movie to other films, but the first thing I thought of after watching Red was Ocean’s 11. That film also had a completely insane and nonsense plot but was made enjoyable by actors involved. Though there is tons of (sometimes pretty bloody) action this film does not even take itself as seriously as something like The Losers. Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, former CIA “operative” (read: official government badass) who is quietly living out his days in a quaint little house, his only excitement seeming to come from flirting with the government pension department phone clerk Sarah Ross, played by Weeds star Mary-Louise Parker. When a small army of assassins invade his house and attempt to off him, he collects his weapons and Sarah, then is off to contact his old pals.
Unlike the aforementioned Oceans 11, Red does not keep its cast together all the time. Morgan Freeman actually has very very little to do here and probably only has a grand total of about ten minutes on screen. He’s good as always, but honestly doesn’t have much to work with. Helen Mirren gets a somewhat similar treatment as she is absent for the first 40 percentish of the movie as well. However, overall, she gets much more to do and absolutely makes the most of it. I know everybody who talks about this movie says this, but I’ll say it again because it’s very accurate: Watching Mirren work over fools with a sniper rifle or take down a car with a freaking tripod mounted chain gun is enjoyable as hell.
So if we’re not seeing Mirren and Freeman, who are we spending time with? Willis is in just about every scene and is excellent as usual, but the real stars here for me were Parker and John Malkovich. Maybe it’s just because I’m a huge fan of her work on Weeds, but I thought Parker took her surprisingly high amount of screen time and brought something to it. Again, as any Weeds fan will know, she’s a master of sarcasm and uses it to full effect here. Her subtle transformation over the course of the film (which I won’t spoil) is done very well and is somewhat believable, which in this movie, is high praise.
Mr. John Malkovich gets his own paragraph. He is a tour de force of crazy in this film. Willis’s character explains that he the government gave him daily doses of LSD for years as part of an experiment, which is why the way he is. What he is, is, absolutely hilarious. From his grand introduction of literally spring boarding out of a bush to any conversation he has or gun he fires, its’ never not funny or strangely riveting. I actually found myself just watching his facial expressions even when he was just in the background of scenes and he constantly had something going on. He is easily the most interesting thing in the movie, has the best lines, and really makes me wish that he would do more movies, as I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve seen him. (IMDB reveals he was just in Jonah Hex….sorry John!)
One other casting point that deserves mention: Karl Urban. He’s best known for playing Eomer in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and his most recent big time role was Bones in the Star Trek reboot. I’ve always liked him and thought he brought an excellent presence and physicality to his roles and his performance in Red only cements those beliefs. Here he plays William Cooper, basically the villain of the film as the lead man who is trying to take down Willis and company. His scenes with Willis, including a brutally fantastic fight scene, are great. There was a definite sense, though subtle, of a torch passing from Willis to Urban on the action movie front. (That being said, Willis just recently said in interviews that he would like to make two more Die Hard films before he gets too old to be able to pull it off anymore) That was done much better here than it was done in another movie semi recently that had a much more overt and dumb torch passing in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. Look, I don’t hate Shia Lebouf. He’s a decent actor, but an action star he is not. Karl Urban however definitely is. I predict Urban will be the star of his own action movie very very soon.
So, is Red worth watching? One has to be in the right mood but it definitely is. I haven’t discussed the plot much not because I fear spoilers (although I do) but because it just isn’t really worth talking about. This is a collection of scenes, action and otherwise, to serve the cast assembled. In that regard it does very well. The action scenes are extremely well put together and most importantly in my opinion, do not suffer from the Bourne syndrome of super close up shaky cam where you can’t tell what is even happening. Just sit back and enjoy each scene on its own merits, not how it got there. Judging from the attitude of everybody involved, the cast realizes all of this as well and just decides to have fun with it. Red will not win any Oscars, nor does it deserve too. It does deserve to be seen by anybody who loves a good action comedy.
Filed under: Movies Tagged: | assassin, badass, Bones, Bruce Willis, CIA, Die Hard, Elrood, Eomer, Helen Mirren, Indiana Jones, John Malkovich, Jonah Hex, lord of the rings, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Oceans 11, Shia Lebouf, silly plot, Star Trek, The Losers, torch passing, Weeds