PLOT: Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) - a retired CIA assassin, is marked for termination by his old bosses at the agency. Targeted by an ambitious young agent (Karl Urban), Moses, with his pension caseworker (Mary-Louise Parker) in tow, reassembles his old team, including the elderly Joe (Morgan Freeman), the insane Marvin (John Malkovich), and the sophisticated, elegant Victoria (Helen Mirren).
REVIEW: When I first heard about RED, it sounded to me like just another, mediocre, latter-day Bruce Willis vehicle. Willis, formerly an action God, hasn’t really made a good action film since SIN CITY, and recent films like LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, SURROGATES, and especially COP-OUT had me wondering whether or not we’d seen the last of the great Bruno.
Thankfully, RED is Willis’ most inspired film in years. Granted, the plot, centering on a retired special agent who knows too much, has been done to death. However, RED transcends the limitations of its plot thanks to punchy direction courtesy of Robert Schwentke, and a jaw-dropping, inspired supporting cast featuring a who’s who of brilliant character actors.
Helen Mirren. John Malkovich. Richard Dreyfuss. Brian Cox. Heck, even Ernest Borgnine (a national treasure at 93)- truly; this is a cast for the ages, and a truly great piece of ensemble work. While Willis is top-billed, and obviously the star- everyone here gets a chance to shine, with Malkovich and Mirren being particular highlights.
Earlier this year, I was amazed at how bad John Malkovich came off in JONAH HEX. Granted, that film was a giant turd, but in the past Malkovich could always be counted on to transcend the material. Luckily, RED makes up for JONAH HEX and then some. As Marvin Boggs, a former agent rendered semi-insane due to his being giving daily doses of LSD for thirty years (yep, that would do it), Malkovich gives one of his most memorable performances in recent memory. From his early scenes toting a stuffed pig, to his final balls out assault on the villains, he’s bloody fantastic. Just wait until you get a load of his magnum vs. rocket launcher show-down with one of the hundreds of agents pursuing him. He’s a hoot throughout, and even Willis seems like he’s having the time of his life acting opposite Malkovich.
As for Mirren, well, ever since the first trailer came out featuring Dame Helen toting a huge machine gun, while looking as comfortable as if she were pruning a rose-bush, it was obvious the filmmakers were on to something casting her in her first action role. It’s actually too bad Mirren’s sixty four, and unlikely to go down an action heroine path at this point in her career, as she’s a surprisingly natural fit in an action flick. Mirren’s particularly good when teamed up with Malkovich towards the end, as their buddy-action chemistry is terrific.
Of course, RED is still a Bruce Willis action vehicle through and through, but obviously he’s comfortable enough in his status to give large chunks of the running time to his co-stars, and for that, Willis deserves kudos. That said, he still gets a lot of memorable moments of his own, particularly a great mano-a-mano fight opposite Karl Urban (and scored to Aerosmith’s Back in the Saddle Again), which is the best fight he’s done since his classic bout with Alexander Gudunov in the original DIE HARD.
He also has terrific romantic chemistry with Mary-Louise Parker, who’s really a breath of fresh air in a film like this. I love Parker, particularly on WEEDS, and RED taps into her brilliant comedic timing on that show, making her a wonderful foil for Willis. The two of them also have strong romantic chemistry, with is something Willis hasn’t really had in a while (it helps that at 44, she’s a little more age appropriate for the 55 year old Willis).
My only beefs with RED are minor. Of course, being a modern, mid-budget action flick, RED’s being slapped with a PG-13, and I wish that, considering the fact that it’s obviously aimed at an older action audience, RED had been beefed up to an R. Heck, it worked for THE EXPENDABLES. For the most part, you won’t miss the extra F-bombs or gore, but a few of the action scenes seem like they were trimmed a bit, especially the Urban/Willis fight, with both of being more bloodied up afterwards than you’d think considering the relatively tame fight. Another minor problem is the sitcom-style score by Christopher Beck was weak and too jokey.
I also felt that Morgan Freeman, a grand old actor, got the shaft a bit in terms of screen time, with him not getting as much to do as Mirren or Malkovich. The villains also could have used a little work, with Julian McMahon getting mere moments of screen-time as the marginal villain.
Those minor flaws aside, RED is still a blast of adrenaline, laced with enough laughs to make this work as both an action ride, and a comedy. I really had a blast from beginning to end, and I hope it does well enough to earn a sequel, as the tacked-on ending before the credits promises great things in store for the characters. At the very least, it’s a sure sign that Stallone’s not the only old timer that’s still got it. Willis is back baby, and who needs Statham and Jet Li when you get Malkovich and Mirren? Yeah!!!!