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Theatrical Review: RED

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
October 12th, 2010

Rating: 3/5

Writers: Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber (screenplay), Warren Ellis & Cully Hamner (graphic novel)
Director: Robert Schwentke
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Urban, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren
Studio: Summit Entertainment

About forty-eight percent less fun than the trailers would lead you to believe, RED is popcorn entertainment elevated by a gifted cast and moments of somewhat inspired comedic timing.

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is retired. He’s also, as it were, tired. Former international spies don’t do well when they try to live out lives of quiet domesticity in nowheresville suburbs, which is why Frank fills his days with routine and calling his Social Security rep, Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) to ostensibly talk about “missing checks.” It’s also why, when a group of masked hitmen descend on his home in the middle of the night, Frank is nothing short of amped to find out the who and the why of the late-night visit. He’s also still got moves, and he is not afraid to use them. Frank rounds up not only his possible lady love Sarah, but also a group of old associates, to find out just what the hell is going on – and why that government grunt William Cooper (Karl Urban) is all over them like white on Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice.

The trailers for the film make RED look significantly more cohesive than it ultimately plays on screen. While I love nothing more than a good “getting the band back together” buddy flick, our titular RED team was never really a team at all, and it’s never exactly clear why Frank pulls in Morgan Freeman’s Joe or Helen Mirren’s Victoria, when the only true targets are he and Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich). But it’s at least effectively muddled enough that you don’t notice the incongruity until you’re out of the theater.

As an action comedy, RED is often funny, but many scenes simply overstay their welcome – nearly every well-set end beat is steamrolled over, leaving sequences feeling weighty when they should be light, the humor lost in the fray. This is probably why RED’s 111 minute runtime doesn’t feel lean, but rather needlessly bloated. Perhaps some Metamucil is in order? The action of RED also aims for the laughs, but it never reaches any new heights. For a film based on a graphic novel, there is a certain comic book sensibility to the flick, but things don’t ever get stylish enough to cast a lasting impression.

However, it’s certainly refreshing to see such a great cast brought together to show how the motley crew has “still got it.” Mirren continues to play her “I may be old enough to be your grandmother, but I am still sexy as hell” card. It is at least somewhat less grating than the flipside of the current trend – the foul-mouthed Betty White bandwagon that ceased to be amusing about two years ago. Willis was born to play the grizzled ex – the ex-cop, the ex-spy, the ex-con. His Frank Moses is bored out of skull, and tough enough to bash yours in without blinking. It’s no-brainer casting, and he works so well in the role that it’s almost easy to take his performance for granted.

But the real breakouts of RED are the younger generation – Karl Urban’s Cooper is a work of tightrope dichotomy. At turns a company man, a killer, a doting husband and father, and the center of reason (even when he doesn’t formulate that reason on his own), Urban is easy to watch. Over the course of the film, Cooper actually grows and changes as a character. Imagine that. Mary-Louise Parker also takes a character that could so quickly fall to the side of caricature – occupying the sidecar on the crew’s metaphorical motorcycle – that when she lights up with both charm and humor, the unexpectedness of her performance is enough to make you sit up. She will only continue to be one of the very best parts of the film, even past her initial introduction.   

RED also benefits from having wide appeal – it’s not just for graphic novel geeks or DC aficionados, it has enough of everything to work for just about everyone. It’s widely cast net, but it’s still one of the elements that doesn’t sink the outing. One can well imagine RED fitting in quite nicely with the year’s other adaptations revolving around government grunts kicked aside, and now hellbent on revenge (plus laughs, of course), like THE A-TEAM and THE LOSERS.


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  • http://twitter.com/BTSjunkie Brian Kelley

    Well done review. I agree with 99% of it. Had I reviewed this film, I think I would have spent 5 paragraphs just on the adorableness of Mary-Louise Parker. You’re right, she’s one of the very best parts and I couldn’t help but wonder while I was watching if I would be enjoying the downtime bits as much without her. The answer is most likely ‘no’.

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