Jul 3, 2019
[Note from the editor: This review comes to us from prospective staff writer Chelsey McQuitty. Enjoy!]
Red (2010) tells the story of recently retired black-ops agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) who, despite his best efforts, finds retirement to be a bit of a bore. Frank tries to be normal, which mainly involves an attempt at growing an avocado plant, but he’s still restless. His only solace is talking to his pension agent Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who he calls each month to complain about never receiving his pension check (revealed to be a bald-faced lie when he rips up the check before our eyes). It’s clear the two of them have a bit of a romantic connection, despite having never met in person.
But one night, Frank’s house is the target of a massive assault by a hit squad. Frank makes it out unscathed, but he discovers he’s on a hit list and that someone’s been tapping his phones, meaning Sarah is now also in danger. He makes his way to Kansas City to protect her, but it seems she’s not too keen on being protected, so Frank ties her up, covers her mouth with duct tape, and puts her in the back seat of his car.
From there, the two go on a multi-city road trip as Frank seeks the help of other aging former agents, including Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, and Helen Mirren. Following the trail of clues, they eventually figure out that all the agents on the hit list were involved in a secret mission in Guatemala back in ‘81.
Meanwhile, a CIA agent named Cooper (Karl Urban) is on Frank’s trail. To learn more, he’s allowed into the vault-like records depot of the CIA, where a character billed only as “The Records Keeper” (Ernest Borgnine) reveals Frank’s long history with the CIA, and that RED is actually an acronym meaning “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”.
Eventually, Frank and the gang end up at the home of an arms dealer (Richard Dreyfuss) who, after a little bit of duct tape and threats on his nether regions, spills the beans that the real purpose of the Guatemala mission was to rescue an army lieutenant who killed an entire village of civilians. And that lieutenant is now the U.S. Vice President, played by Julian McMahon, who’s now ordering the hits to cover up his past crimes so he can run for president.
Agent Cooper closes in, forcing Frank’s crew to make their escape. Of course, Sarah isn’t used to quick getaways, and ends up getting caught and taken in to be interrogated. Frank ponders going public with what he knows about the VP’s past, but he realizes that this will only end up getting Sarah killed. So he picks up a phone and announces his new plan to Cooper: He’s going to kill the Vice President.
If there’s anything good to be said about Red, it’s that it makes for a pretty good date movie, being a blend of comedy, romance, and action that’s never all that intense or violent. There are a couple of good set pieces, but nothing with the wow factor you’d see from a more straightforward action film. The comedy is not all that strong, either; there are plenty of moments that’ll leave you smirking, but you probably won’t be laughing out loud or repeating any of these lines to your friends. Though, the scenes with paranoid conspiracy nut Malkovich definitely deserve a chuckle or two.
The romantic aspect of the film is cute, and not in a cloying romantic comedy sort of way. However, it also misses the mark, in that the two romantic leads don’t share much screen time, and when they do appear together, they get very little chance to display much chemistry with each other, what with all the gun battles and explosions going on around them. Their romance does end on a happy note, but it feels a bit forced, since we never saw a whole lot of interaction between the two of them, particularly in the film’s final act.
The plot is about as busy as a Jackson Pollock painting, and it’s tough to follow and really take it all in. For starters, there are a lot of characters, and the story tries to give them all backstories, and after a while it becomes sort of a blur. Yes, the characters are all great, and I don’t see how they could have cut any of them out, but it’s a bit much. For example, there’s another romance subplot in addition to Frank and Sarah’s story, where Mirren’s character rekindles her romance with Cox’s character, and the two have way more chemistry than Willis and Parker. Which kind of undermines one of the more important aspects of the film. And by the end, so many plot points have been piled on that the big finale feels completely rushed.
Of course, it’s a great cast, though with so many big names it’s difficult to give them all something to do. Morgan Freeman’s role is almost an extended cameo, and it seems the only reason Mirren is in this is because someone thought it would be hilarious to see Helen Mirren operating a variety of high powered weaponry. Well, it at least looks like everyone involved had a lot of fun making this movie.
But anyone watching Red and hoping for a faithful adaptation of the comic book by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner is most likely going to be disappointed. The comic has a much more serious tone than the movie, “Red” means something completely different there, and in the comic, Frank takes on the bad guys alone, and at no point does he assemble a whole crew of senior citizen secret agents.
Despite the somewhat mediocre story, Red still made enough money to warrant a sequel, which came out earlier this year. I’ll be checking out Red 2 soon enough, but by all accounts, it was a bit of a disappointment, which is rather amazing considering the low expectations set by the original.
[—This review contains additional material by Dr. Winston O’Boogie.]