Summit Entertainment // 2010 // 111 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // January 25th, 2011
Retired. Extremely Dangerous.
"Old man, my ass."
Frank Moses (Bruce Willis, Die Hard) seems like many other unmarried, upper-middle-aged retirees, trying to adjust his life to "leisure time" in a modest house in the suburbs.
But Frank isn't just any retiree; he's a retired CIA operative, "one of the best," a problem solver/killing machine who's now just killing time. Part of that time is spent talking on the phone with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds), a woman who works for the company that handles his pension.
Frank's imposed tranquility is broken one night when a band of government assassins comes a' calling. Frank might have seen better days, but his "one of the best" cred is no joke. He dispatches the younger, better-armed killers and sets out to find out why he's been targeted.
Retiring from his retirement, Frank grabs the unwitting Sarah and re-connects with a few old -- literally, old -- friends: octagenerian Joe (Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby, the lovely and lethal Victoria (Helen Mirren, The Queen), and the deranged but reliable Marvin (John Malkovich, Being John Malkovich).
While they've all been out of the game for a while, they find that, like riding a bicycle, going on missions and killing people are things you can easily pick up and start doing again.
With 2010 giving us Red and The Expendables, it looks like one of the As in AARP now stands for "Action."
Red is a fun spy-vs.-spy comedy/actioner that flips the convention of dashing young heroes fighting the evil, older establishment. It's a one-trick pony, to be sure, but director Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler's Wife) gets a fair amount of mileage out of it, thanks mainly to what amounts to a dream cast for this project.
Forget the plot -- I pretty much did. It's jumpy and convoluted, and Schwentke doles it out in fits and starts, giving us just enough information to make it to the next scene. The real pleasure here is watching a bunch of talented veterans playing an unlikely group of "comeback kids."
While Willis is the nominal "star," his low-key performance tends to fade into the background. Willis has always had two acting modes: wise-ass and somber; here, he goes with the latter. I guess "somber" in this case could be translated as "stalwart," but unless he's shooting at someone, he comes off here as pretty bland. Fortunately, everyone else gets to do colorful, and even more fortunately, the top-of-the-line cast knows the difference between over-the-top and obnoxious.
Emmy and Tony Award winner Parker -- who, at age 46, must be thrilled to have the "ingenue" role -- fits perfectly with her more mature co-stars; her off-beat sense of timing and ironic line readings keep her scenes with the subdued Willis afloat. Oscar and Emmy Award winner Mirren is a hoot as the refined but ruthless Victoria, who shares a past with Russian operative Ivan (Emmy winner Brian Cox). Oscar winner Freeman is just briefly along for the ride, but he shines in his too-few scenes. Age-defying Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine -- at 90 and change, the true senior member of the ensemble -- shows us he's still "got it" in a couple of cameo scenes, and Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss shows us he can still be irritating, if given the right role. Karl Urban (Star Trek (2009)) is solid as the new-breed agent dealing with the "old turks."
But it's Emmy winner Malkovich who steals the show as the crazy and paranoid -- usually justifiably -- Marvin. Malkovich has been turning in deliriously demented performances for some time now, and while his Marvin isn't exactly a new high, it's a wildly energetic and entertaining turn.
The Blu-ray from Summit sports a very nice 1080p image. Detail is fine, colors true, and it retains the overall "film" look. Audio is excellent, a solid, immersive track that's as effective in the film's quieter moments as it is when the guns are blazing.
Summit provides an intriguing supplement: an audio commentary by Robert Baer, a retired CIA field officer who served as a consultant on the film. Baer talks a bit about his own experiences with the Agency and tries to give a sense of what working for -- and retiring from -- the CIA is really like. It's an interesting idea that doesn't really hold up, but you've got to give Summit credit for giving us something other than the usual glad-handing director and cast track. The commentary is subtitled. "Access Red" is a PiP feature that offers a trivia track, interviews, behind-the-scenes and "making of" footage, and bits of Baer's commentary -- all the stuff that usually turns up in small, separate featurettes. It's an interesting idea, but a bit cumbersome for what we get. There are also a few deleted scenes and an Easter Egg about the visual effects that can be activated on the menu screen by pressing the down arrow on the remote on one of the options.
Remember when I said, "Forget the plot"? Well, as the film goes on, that becomes a bit of a problem. While Jon and Erich Hoeber's script -- loosely (actually, barely) adapted from the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner -- offers a good showcase for the actors, the story really doesn't hold up. The "mystery" is really just an excuse to get the characters together, the bullets flying, and the explosives exploding, which is fine until about two-thirds of the way through. Then, the Hoebers start the long journey toward The Resolution.
Here, the film shifts from a character comedy with action sequences to a standard-issue and clumsily constructed action/thriller. The plot threads that just sort of leisurely dangled along for the first 80 minutes suddenly become the focus, and the film becomes fussy, overcomplicated, and annoyingly ludicrous -- as opposed to charmingly ludicrous, as it had been earlier. A few unwelcome and unnecessary plot twists, as well as an egregiously miscast Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck) in a small but pivotal role, don't help, and while Red regains some of its goofy good will in the closing moments, the messy final third leaves the impression that the film is far less than the sum of its parts.
Word on the 'net is that a sequel to Red is being planned. Normally, I'm not big on sequels to films that weren't all that great to begin with, but I like the idea of this one. If they can re-assemble the cast and give them a second shot at it with better material, then Red 2 might just be a nice surprise.
Flawed and uneven, Red is still a good time and has enough going for it to at least recommend a rental.
Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Summit Entertainment
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Access Red
* Deleted Scenes
* Easter Egg
* Official Site
* Cinema Verdict Review