PLOT: Avery Ludlow is an elderly man living a quiet life in the country with his beloved (and equally getting on in years) dog, Red. When a seemingly harmless encounter with a trio of snotty teens quickly escalates into brutal violence against Red, Avery is forced to push mourning aside and focus on something else: justice. When that doesn’t work, it’s time for revenge.
REVIEW: I believe it was Stephen King who first told me about Jack Ketchum being the “new Master of Terror” or some similar hyperbole. Granted, he didn’t tell me personally, but via a quote of his on a book cover. Now, the author is known for granting such titles to many different new writers, but I was inclined to believe him, as I slowly but surely began hearing comparable bits of praise for Ketchum and his twisted stories. The word was that his “major” work was the revenge tale RED, about a kindly old man who becomes determined to bring to justice the teen punk who callously killed his dog. So I read it, and now I’ve seen the anticipated film adaptation, which received some notoriety at the last Sundance film festival.
Fans of Ketchum’s novel will be glad to know that the film is very faithful to that popular piece of fiction... Unfortunately, I wasn’t much of a fan of Ketchum’s bloodless, straightforward tale, so I was right on top of the story’s frankly unimaginative “twists and turns”. Admittedly, there’s a certain amount of respect deserved for not pushing the story into typical horror territory - and I’m not asking for Avery to become a drooling maniac – but at the same time, the narrative just doesn’t grip after a certain point. Avery’s search for some measure of justice is a laborious and unexciting one, and his main adversaries are a father-son team so obnoxious and detestable that we’re practically rooting for Avery to go medieval on their asses. Brian Cox is such a good actor, and his character so initially likable, that I think it’s safe to say we’d root for him the whole way though.
The fact that the film isn’t a particularly “good” looking endeavor is another major drawback. I’m usually not one to criticize a movie’s budget, because any well told story can be effective no matter how much money it has in its pocket. But in this case, the dreary, unattractive D.V. cinematography makes RED a minor chore to look at. Directors Lucky McKee and Trygve Allister Diesen (who replaced McKee about halfway through production) direct scenes adequately, if without much style.
As I previously mentioned, Brian Cox is great as the calm but determined Avery, and his performance is easily the best thing in the film. Tom Sizemore has always played a creep well, and here as the loathsome father Michael you just want to punch him in the face, or at the very least, give him three aspirin and a cup of coffee (the man looks hungover in each and every scene he’s in). Noel Fisher, as dog killin’ Danny is a believably evil little f*cker, and Kyle Gallner, as his regretful brother Harold, has a few good scenes where he expresses his sadness to Avery… Robert Englund and Amanda Plummer show up as the seedy parents of the other delinquent boy, and they have a good old time playing up white-trash stereotypes.
But try as everyone might, it’s the source material that limits the entertainment value of the film. It’s a “restless legs” type of flick, where you keep shifting and jiggling your legs in an effort to inject energy into the proceedings, or at the very least, speed them up.