Director: Robert Schwentke
Writers: Jon & Erich Hoeber (based on the comic by Warren Ellis & Cully Hamner)
Distributed By: Summit Entertainment
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary Louise-Parker, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Karl Urban, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, Julian McMahon, Ernest Borgnine
Release Date: October 15, 2010
MPAA: Rated PG-13
RED is an action-comedy very loosely based on the three-issue comic book min-series of the same name, featuring a story about a retired CIA agent being hunted down by his own former agency who decides to fight back; and the similarities really stop there.
Former CIA agent Frank (Paul in the comic) Moses (Bruce Willis) has seen a lot of action and been a part of a lot of dirty deeds. One such deed involved the extraction of the now–Vice President Robert Stanton (McMahon), who at the time was a young lieutenant who massacred an entire village. Now, the VP is running for President his arms dealer partner (Dreyfuss) and the corrupt official in the CIA involved in the cover-up are killing everyone that knows about the incident. Moses decides he must protect his only current contact, a woman he’s developed a crush on named Sarah (Louise-Parker), in case the CIA go after her to get to him. All throughout, they go on a crazy cross-country adventure, teaming up with old enemies and partners alike to take out the opposition and save the day.
As far as the opposition is concerned, the CIA higher-up send out their current best man, an unflappable field agent named Cooper, played by Karl Urban who brings a healthy dose of reality and sincerity to the film, keeping it as grounded as a genre-film like this can be. Little scenes like Cooper talking to his wife on the phone about their son, while mercilessly killing some badguy, or his reaction to Moses threatening his family add little touches of character building that are very necessary for films like this, making Urban’s performance the second best part of this film.
SIDE NOTE: Seeing his performance in this movie made this critic realize that Karl Urban NEEDS to be the next actor to play James Bond.
The best part of this film comes by way of John Malkovich. Malkovich plays Marvin Boggs, a retired agent who was at times both ally and enemy of Frank Moses, and who was also secretly subjected to daily doses of LSD for eleven years by the CIA. Malkovich is at his silly & unhinged best since his performance in Being John Malkovich. Playing a crazed conspiracy theorist, suffering the after-effects of the LSD, Marvin is a crazy, goofy, absurd mess of a man who is a true joy to experience on screen.
The rest of the cast performs their roles with their usual level of aplomb and enthusiasm. Brian Cox as Ivan gushes over Helen Mirren’s Victoria (and who wouldn’t?!) and Morgan Freeman as Joe is… well… Morgan Freeman. Furthermore, Ernest Borgnine is just so loveable on screen you just can’t help but smile the few minutes he’s there.
This film also has a very unique visual element insofar as the setting changes. Each time our intrepid heroes hop skip and jump from one locale to the next, the audience is treated to an entertaining living postcard. While it’s nothing special, little touches like this that keep the film lighthearted and fun as well as help to set it apart from numerous other similar films.
The music, both soundtrack and score, are quite deserving of praise as well. From understated yet toe-tapping fun little melodies to jazzier tunes to rocking guitars the music helps maintain the films pace, which would most certainly feel uneven if not for the background music. Mixed in with the score are cues from other movies and fun jazz and rock songs. The office brawl between Cooper and Moses playing out to Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle” is quite simply outstanding.
One other fantastic aspect of the film is that of the romantic element. There’s the main romance: a quirky, off-kilter, oddball, growing affection that plays out like a weird indie flick romantic comedy. Then there’s the second romance between Victoria and Ivan, two star-crossed lovers who work as agents for opposing countries that are reunited only to find they’re still head-over-heels, which plays out like a cute old-fashioned melodrama. This side of the film adds an extra level of characterization to our heroes which helps make them more relatable, which is completely necessary for a genre-film such as this.
There isn’t actually much of anything to complain about in regard to this film. It’s all pretty terrific. However, if one had to complain about something it would be this: the pacing. As mentioned before, the music really helps move things along. But the film itself manages to feel both uneven and predictable at times. The film is made up by long stretches of people standing around talking followed by a nice but brief action sequence, then rinse and repeat. It’s not necessarily bad, and I’m all for plot and characterization in my action films, but motionless scenes of protracted exposition can get a little tiresome, especially when the films formula gives you the sense of when they’re coming.
Another complaint would be, of course, a matter of lack of fidelity to the source material. If RED had been called GREEN instead, or any other name for that matter, there would be zero indication that it was based on a pre-existing story. Fans of the comic mini-series will probably take umbrage with this movie, and they have every right to. Though, the story’s creator Warren Ellis has gone on record saying that this film isn’t much like his comic and accepted it anyway, so there’s something to consider.
As an adaptation of the comic, this movie keeps part of the premise, the main character, some of the dialogue, and some of the action, earning a score of 5 out of 10. As film on its own merits, this film is just the right blend of crazy action and ridiculous humor, easily earning a score of 9 out of 10.