If you’ve seen the trailer for Red, you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. There’s no deception with this marketing campaign: if you’re the type of person who digs movies in which bullets and bazookas are fired at the same time and collide in the middle (causing a massive explosion, naturally), chances are you’ll probably like this movie.
Based on the comic by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, Red tells the story of Frank Moses (Willis), a lonely, retired CIA black ops agent. He calls the agency just to speak with the cute customer service rep Sarah (Parker), and the two have a blossoming friendship over the phone. But when a team of agents breaks into Moses’ apartment to kill him, he knows that Sarah’s life is in danger, too. In order to stay alive, he has to “[get] the band back together” by reassembling his old (hiYO!) team: Joe (Freeman), an 80-year-old rascal; Marvin (Malkovich), made insane by years of government testing; and Victoria (Mirren), a woman who can’t force herself to fully retire. Hunted by up-and-coming agent Cooper (Karl Urban), the gang gets caught up in the remnants of a operation they worked on thirty years prior.
This movie is utterly inconsequential, but that’s exactly what it’s aiming for. The writing provides plenty of opportunities to let loose and have some fun, with almost all of the leads playing variations of characters they’ve depicted on screen before. Freeman and Willis fell right back into their natural chemistry from Lucky Number Slevin, almost as if they never left that film’s set. Malkovich was perfectly crazy, striking just the right balance of slapstick and insanity. And as the action comedy equivalent of Betty White, it was surprisingly exhilarating to see Helen Mirren (notable for playing traditional, serious roles) brazenly fire automatic weapons until all of the cartridges were spent. And Mary-Louise Parker played the “Cameron Diaz in Knight and Day” part with such effortless charm and humor that I was instantly enamored with her.
The supporting cast is really a joy to watch, with hugely entertaining performances from the always-reliable Brian Cox and Richard Dreyfuss. Even Ernest Borgnine has a small role, sure to raise the enjoyment of the older audience this film caters to. But the break-out to me was easily Karl Urban (who played Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek) as Cooper, standing out in an office fight scene with Willis that cements him as one of the next big blockbuster stars. [He’s already been signed to play Judge Dredd in a reboot of that franchise.] Cooper’s casual indifference when executing orders was effectively chilling, and his go-getter attitude seems to mirror Urban’s own rise to movie stardom.
Perhaps my biggest surprise was with the assured confidence of the film itself, handled notably well by director Robert Schwentke. His filmography thus far (Flightplan, The Time Traveler’s Wife) didn’t seem to indicate he could pull off this type of tone, but he did an admirable job portraying the action, thankfully avoiding the quick-cut mantra of action films of the past decade. (It’s so refreshing to see an action movie that doesn’t give you a headache.) There are a couple of excellent sequences, one involving a car crash and Willis (predictably) being a total badass, and one involving the destruction of a house reminiscent of The Rocketeer and The Book of Eli.
Red is pure, self-assured escapism. It’ll surely become a staple of cable networks in the next few years, but there’s nothing wrong with that – especially when the movie is as fun as this one. The cast practically oozes enthusiasm, and their excitement seems to complement the ridiculous nature of this movie. I’d definitely recommend checking this one out if you’re a fan of the action comedy genre; Red continues this year’s trend of “team up” action flicks, but this one falls more on the The A-Team side than The Expendables side. Until next time…