Unreal Movie Review: Red

Red is part of a new generation of comic book movies that you didn’t even know were comic book movies. It features no capes, tights, nor anything remotely supernatural, but it’s based on an animated title nonetheless.

It must have been a hell of series to attract this much talent to it, as Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich all signed up to play retired CIA operatives back in action. Perhaps it was a chance to prove to themselves they could still kick ass in their golden years? And kick ass they certainly do.

Red is actually R.E.D., aka Retired Extremely Dangerous. I think there’s supposed to be a comma in there somewhere. Someone is out to kill these retired agents, along with anyone else who had anything to do with a mission decades earlier in Guatemala, including cargo pilots and New York Times reporters.

When Frank Moses (Willis, who I swear hasn’t aged in 15 years) finds his house swarming with black ops, he murders them all effortlessly and begins to check in on his old friends to see if he can unravel the mystery. It’s poor timing, as he’s just met a lovely young woman (Weeds’ Mary Louise Parker) from the pension office, who he’s forced to kidnap and bring her along for the ride once the government deems her a target as well.

It’s a hell of a first date story I guess.

Freeman, Mirren , Malkovich and Brian Cox play a selection of older agents in various stages of retirement ranging from peaceful to violent to off the reservation. While Freeman’s Joe might be comfortable pinching asses in a nursing home, Mirren’s Victoria still takes mercenary contracts in between tea parties and Malkovich’s Marvin is hiding out in a shack in the deep south thinking if he steps outside, he’ll be swarmed by predator drones and black helicopters.

One by one they join up with Frank to aid him in uncovering the truth, and help him combat his CIA tail, spearheaded by a younger version of himself, Agent Cooper (Karl Urban).He turns out to be a worthy adversary, though often youth is no match for experience.

When it becomes clear Red is based on a comic book is in its handful of explosive action scenes. The film plods along at a reasonable pace, and all of a sudden something out The Matrix will happen like Frank gliding out of his speeding car on foot to shoot at a pursuing vehicle, or Marvin hitting the tip of an RPG with a slow-motion bullet so it explodes and kills its owner. It’s cool, but doesn’t seem terribly consistent with the tone of the rest of the movie, which is actually quite slow paced when no one’s shooting guns. These scene would have felt right at home in say, Wanted, but not as much here.

This was a pretty awesome sight to behold.

But the film does have quite a clever script, and though it’s never laugh out loud funny to any significant degree, it’s smart and polished, and moves the film along nicely. Willis looks like he’s having more fun than he’s had in years, and if you look at his recent film history (Cop Out, Surrogates, Live Free or Die Hard) you can see why.

It’s fun to watch Oscar caliber actors Freeman, Mirren and Malkovich all toting around automatic weapons, but I was most impressed with Karl Urban and Mary-Louise Parker, the former showing real promise to be a future action star and the latter proving she needs to break the glass ceiling of her Weeds growhouse and branch into more film.

“Do movies like this for thirty years and you’ll lose that hair too kid.”

Red, for all its momentary charms, is pretty forgettable in the end, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. This weekend it was between this and watching the guys of Jackass shoot bodily fluids at each other, and I have to say this is probably the preferable option for most.

3 out of 5 stars

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  1. Apparently the “young woman” Mary-Louiose Parker is 46 or something. Not young, but if my wife looks that good at 46 I may just pass out from my extreme good fortune.

    And don’t even get me started on Helen Mirren. I wanted to see this based on her scenes in the trailer alone.

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