“You just got your ass handed to you by a goddamn retiree.”
This one quote pretty much sums up all there is to know about director Robert Schwentke’s latest film Red (an acronym for “Retired Extremely Dangerous”), which features an all-star cast that consists of Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker in the lead and Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren as major supporting characters. Contrary to the likes of other action-comedies that were released earlier this year (Date Night and Knight and Day are two films that come to mind), Red, which has been adapted for the big-screen by screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber (it was first a three-part comic book mini-series), not only churns out high-octane action but also never switches focus from its characters and the performers who play said characters. It’s for this reason that the film remains slick.
And so the long-running juxtaposition between work and retirement begins with Frank Moses (Willis) waking up (as usual), taking his medication, getting dressed, working out, collecting bills, and decorating his home for what seems to be a subtle competition between neighbors, who have their houses decked out in Christmas décor. Set to music that you’d expect from an upbeat indie drama, Moses calls the pension office, which has been a tradition for him, not because he wants his check in the mail, but because he has started a long-distance friendship with one of the employees named Sarah Ross (Parker). The two indulge in casual conversation with Ross asking Moses if he’s ever been to Chile, but that all comes to a halt when he drops the magic words — “I’m going to be in Kansas City.” The phone call ends in awkwardness since that is where Ross lives and works.
However, things are never that simple in Red. In the middle of the night, a small squad of armed intruders (equipped with ski masks and night vision goggles) silently, yet ineffectively, try to take Moses’ life. Unfortunately for them, it only takes a couple seconds, in thanks to the trusty bait n’ lure method, to simultaneously take them all out. Methodically, he throws a couple bullets into a frying pan and mixes it with some boiling oil and uses this time to arm himself against his attackers, who remain stationed outside his home. Of course, he escapes unharmed, but is now faced with the burden of knowing that someone is after him. Undaunted, he breaks into Ross’ house and takes her hostage in an attempt to keep her safe from the forces at work, and seeks to reassemble his former military-issued team which has now been metamorphosed into a group of idiosyncratic retirees.
The key component to the enjoyability of Red is its cast of fully-developed characters (there’s one exception but I’ll get to that later) which for the most part, are performed masterfully by their respective actors/actresses. Willis and Louise are excellent leads and it’s nice to see Willis in a comedic role that doesn’t suck. There’s also a surprisingly amount of romantic chemistry between the two and Louise should be commended for not allowing her character to become bothersome.
But Mirren, Freeman, and Malkovich are the real gems in this film. Mirren exerts the sophistication of her character, Victoria, who contributes a womanly touch to the team. Make no mistake about it though; Victoria is a dangerous one, often sporting a sniper rifle or a semi-automatic and being an expert with either. Freeman displays the courage of his character, Joe Matheson, a resident as Greensprings Rest Home and a sufferer of stage-four liver cancer (he also happens to be the tactical side of the team), with just the right mix of vulnerability and strength. Lastly there’s Malkovich, who plays Marvin Boggs, a character whose paranoia (a side effect of a secret mind control test in which Boggs was given LSD for years) adds instability to the team. Not only does he live in an underground chamber but he also carries a grenade launcher neatly tucked inside a pink pig that he carries around. Malkovich almost channels his performance as Lennie in Gary Sinise’s opus Of Mice and Men.
The weakest link has to be Karl Urban. His character, William Cooper, who is presented as the misguided CIA agent assigned to the case of capturing Moses, isn’t quite as developed as all of the other characters, in fact, Cooper seems criminally neglected.
The interesting thing about Red is the fact that every act seems different — yet it works as one. The first act mainly focuses on comedy while the second act takes a darker approach — often delving into the idea of detaching yourself from your work and how difficult it is to adapt to another lifestyle within moments. The third act just explodes into a beautiful display of discharged firearms and downed enemies. However, moments of pure, unadulterated thrill are plentiful throughout. Not to spoil too much, let me just say that one of the better scenes pits Boggs in a Mexican standoff armed with only a pistol, against a foe with a loaded RPG.
The funktastic soundtrack is an added bonus.
Will Red win any Oscars? Hell no, but Schwentke’s latest is sure to entertain all of you whippersnappers looking for an entertaining action-comedy flick.