“RED” is the latest graphic novel title to be given the big screen treatment. Haven't heard of it? That's just fine. Hollywood learned long ago just because a comic book doesn't have a name like Batman or Superman attached to it doesn't mean it can't be great box office fodder.
Literature has always been a source of inspiration for film. The comic book, in the eyes of a studio executive, is even better. The movie comes pre-storyboarded. One less person to hire.
The “RED” of the title is an acronym for Retired Extremely Dangerous in reference to former CIA agents, who are, well, you get the picture. Bruce Willis stars as Frank Moses, who after a failed attempt on his life rounds up his old team including Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox as a former Russian adversary turned ally. Naturally, Willis and crew stumble upon an elaborate conspiracy.
Also in tow is Mary-Louise Parker as Moses' pension worker who he falls in love with over the phone. Realizing his affectionate tones have made her a target he kidnaps her, but soon the romance novel junkie is gleefully along for the ride. Parker has a nice chemistry with Willis and adds to the quirky vibe of the film. Karl Urban is the man on their tail and proves to be a worthy adversary.
This year has featured a lot of films about rogue mercenaries, soldiers of fortunes or government agents. We've had “The Losers,” “The A-Team” and “The Expendables.”
We've also seen a couple movies featuring women tagging along with an assassin or government agent in the form of “The Killers” and “Knight and Day.” The upcoming “The Tourist” starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie will also cover this ground with the genders reversed.
These films were largely not critically well received, although some were hits. The great French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard once said “In order to criticize a movie, you have to make another movie,” and while “RED” was probably in production the same time as all these other films, the line still seems applicable.
This is the kind of movie where you just enjoy the cast tossing around one liners and looking cool shooting guns and blowing stuff up. It seems like a modest goal to achieve, but “The Expendables” failed at achieving it. Of all the films listed above, in many respects, “RED” is the movie “The Expendables” should've been.
“RED" has a sense of camaraderie and fun that was sorely missing from “The Expendables,” a film that took itself far too seriously. Though not a great film, in comparison to the dire “The Expendables,” “RED” is a masterpiece.
The plot for the film is negligible, it hangs together and makes sense, which is always a plus, but is merely the excuse to have these actors play together. The screenplay for “RED” by Jon and Erich Hoeber is populated with sharp lines and offbeat character shading, particularly for Malkovich's character whose brain was warped from years of LSD testing.
Malkovich, a master of playing kooks, steals the movie with an off-kilter, jittery, paranoia-fueled energy. If there's one reason to see movie it is for Malkovich. Just watching him carry around a giant, fluffy, stuffed pig is the worth the price of admission in itself.
A classy Academy Award winning actress of Mirren's caliber may seem out of place in this sort of material and while it is an underwritten role, she clearly is relishing getting to play with the boys. She adds a bit of grace to the proceedings.
Willis and Freeman do Willis and Freeman. Both actors are so well known and loved by audiences that just bringing their considerable charisma and well-worn personas to the table is all that is necessary, at least for lightweight fare like this. But neither actor is merely going through the motions. As with the rest of the cast,
they seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.
And let's not forget Ernest Borgnine, who, at 93, makes a very welcomed appearance as a records keeper.
This is a film that thanks to a crisp, high energy visual style and fine acting keeps things moving. Things are kept light, and here's that word again, fun.