So you’ve been going to the movies recently in a crude attempt to keep your girlfriend or boyfriend interested in you and you’ve been noticing that the movies selected by the man have been getting a little cheesier than you’ve been accustomed to. You say to yourself, “an action film is an action film,” right? But it just doesn’t seem to be the same because you remember not so long ago how action films really featured iconic action stars as the focal point for the film. Nowadays it seems like there are too many comic book movies, too many adaptations and too many recognizable franchises that are simply being remixed into Hollywood films. You ask yourself, “Where did all the originality go? Where have all the iconic stars gone?” Well, the answer is: to the doorstop of retirement.
Don’t get me wrong, true believers, I’m not trying to knock comic book glory with the old adaptation blues, but there was a time when action adventures really were more about the stars and it was the quality of the star that determined the quality of the film. Bruce Willis, the quintessential action film star (and top-billed star of Red) has been there and done that in the action/adventure genre (he even sang us a little tune in Hudson Hawk . . . ugh!). His performance in Red may be the first in many films that feature him playing up his elderly status as he enters the twilight of his Hollywood career. I don’t like this at all! Very few A-Listers show an ability to sell action films at advanced ages. Yes, even Sean Connery has his limitations . . . sorry Chris (writer of CBN's The DOC). Unlike Sean, Bruce still has the goods to produce attractive characters for the camera because he stays in very good shape, maintains great timing when delivering lines and retains the same level of charisma he displayed in his first Die Hard film. There’s a reason why every action film is compared to Die Hard or described as “Die Hard on a (fill in the blank).” It was the best and so was Bruce. Contrarians, send your b*tching and moaning to the forums!
As for Red, I must say that there is nothing extraordinary about it. The story is not particularly unique, the effects are old hat and the performances, though reliable, are a little too reflective of the actual ages of an otherwise proven and star studded cast. This project is yet another head-scratcher from DC that follows another comic obscurity from its IP vault: the train wreck known as Jonah Hex. I truly wonder how much input Geoff Johns is actually producing to steer DC on a crash course with Marvel to see who’s heroes shine the brightest on the silver screen. If he had ANYTHING to do with giving the thumbs up to Hex and Red, I fear for the immediate future of DC. That being said, Red was not nearly the atrocity that Jonah Hex was despite the fact that John Malkovich was the tie that bound both films together.
Red is a fun buddy adventure that follows retired CIA operative Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and his boring assimilation into so-called normal society. Moses reaches out to pension accountant Sarah Ross, played by Mary-Louise Parker, in a covert attempt to make a personal connection with someone, but apparently the CIA (or some other covert agency) isn’t having any of that. Thus, without warning or setup, Moses begins to be hunted by Black Ops personal left and right as he tries to find out who is trying to kill him and why. This story is nice and fun, but quite frankly, has been done.
Jon and Erich Hoeber are credited with writing this screenplay adaptation of the graphic novel written by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. The Hoeber boys’ previous screen writing credit was for the curious tale of Kate Beckinsale vs. a snow storm in Whiteout (2009). These gents are in the beginning of their careers as screen writers and the notion of taking risks when crafting a story takes a back seat to conventionality for most anyone lucky enough to receive a golden ticket to work for Hollywood. I do not cast a foreboding index finger upon the brothers Hoeber for such uninspired work, but the only credit I will give them is that the story was simple and made sense. There are a number of action scenes involving standard issue explosions and bullets, but the pacing is methodical so as to purposely accommodate characters of advanced ages. The jokes that were written into the script were mildly amusing, but how many “old as dirt” jokes can you listen to without it becoming annoying? I thought it was quaint how the filmmakers decided to mark each transition to a new location with animated post cards. You know, kind of like the way you’ve gotten post cards from your grandparents vacationing in Key West? In the end, I feel the writers went to the “old” well far too often. Yeah, I get that Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren are old. But the novelty of seeing old farts unleash a storm of sub machine gun fire wears out quickly.
Despite the all star quality of this particular cast, their collective interest in this project is curious to me. Curious enough for me to hypothesize that this was a paycheck film for the top-billed aristocracy. With a budget of only $58 million dollars, no one was getting paid Tom Hanks money, but, the demands of this kind of film shoot were not exactly on the same level as say perhaps, Apocalypse Now (1979). With that, one cannot go wrong in casting Bruce Willis as your leading man. He has done enough of just about every kind of film to demonstrate confidence in just about every genre and situation. Bruce does not disappoint in Red and despite the story trying ever so hard to tie Willis’ character to the same generation as Freeman’s and Malkovich’s, his performance is more evidence of a young buck in his prime. The best example of this was his throw down fisticuffs sequence against Karl Urban’s character. The action was tight and Bruce proved more than capable of being able to keep up with anyone if it involves brawling on the screen. I wish I could say the rest of the cast was up to this challenge.
Morgan Freeman is simply called upon to act as the cool leader with so much experience in the intelligence field that he cracks a smile at a gun that is pointed at his sternum. John Malkovich plays the kooky, crazy, paranoid ex-agent (and the token comedy relief). Helen Mirren plays the ex-femme fatale assassin who attempts to infuse some level of sexuality into this story which Mary-Louise Parker is completely incapable of producing. Brian Cox and Richard Dreyfuss round out the possible antagonists for the film, but neither display a shred of their dramatic prowess because unfortunately, their roles are called upon to be jokes as well.
The most efficient means of describing this film is by calling it a lovechild of The Bucket List (2007) and The Expendables (2010). This, however, is not a good combination which is made worse by the fact that it is written as an action/comedy. I feel the only actor that takes his or her role seriously is Bruce Willis, who coincidently delivers a performance that the audience buys into. Everyone else is charming by all means, but their performances are mailed in. Or should I say telegraphed? Perhaps Pony Express is more applicable? This one’s a rental at best.