Colorfully Comical Chaos
By Amy Nicholson
Everyone wants to enjoy retirement, whether they’re noble people like schoolteachers or firefighters or ruthlessly cold-blooded black ops agents. But some professions don’t lend themselves easily to kicking back in a rocking chair—something Bruce Willis learns the hard way in the amusing new action-comedy Red.
Willis plays Frank Moses, a former CIA analyst who was secretly the nation’s most kickass secret agent. The need for secrecy throughout his career has left him with no friends and no one with whom to keep the home fires burning. But he does have a long-distance telephone flirtation with the government payroll clerk (Mary-Louise Parker) who handles his pension check, and when an army of machine-gun-toting killers comes to wipe him out at his placid suburban home, he hits the road to kidnap her by surprise.
The reason he kidnaps Parker is because whoever is out to kill him is likely gunning for her as well, an assumption that proves true almost immediately and forces the pair to further hopscotch the country while Willis rounds up his three closest former RED (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) associates. This crack trio of eccentric agents is played with complete joy by Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and a priceless John Malkovich, who must figure out why someone’s out to kill them as well, and who’s behind the list of a dozen deaths that are being dispatched in quick fashion by agents led by Julian McMahon.
Red, adapted by Jon and Erich Hoeber from a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, continues the tradition set by Watchmen, a comic book aimed at adults. In this case, all the main characters are not just old, but retired. But unlike the pretentious and damn near unwatchable film version of Watchmen, this movie is guaranteed fun even for teens willing to overlook the actors’ ages and enjoy four pros at the top of their games.
What’s especially gratifying about this film is the fact that it finds a way to give its stars a chance to have a hellacious amount of fun, especially with Mirren and Freeman getting to break free from their usual stately styles of acting. Between this film and Secretariat, Malkovich continues the major second career wave he launched with his hilarious turn in 2008’s Coen Brothers triumph Burn After Reading.
The fun extends to performances by supporting players like Parker, who carries over the sexy-funny charm she’s honed to a fine point in Weeds. Brian Cox and especially Richard Dreyfuss — in his first decent role in the 15 years since Mr. Holland’s Opus—burst off the screen with humorous pizzazz.
And Willis is back doing what he does best—taking audiences on the kind of ride that makes them remember why they fell in love with him in the first place in Moonlighting and Die Hard. There’s no one else in Hollywood who’s able to mix superb comic timing with intense action scenes as well as him, and he owns this role from the first moment he’s onscreen.
Director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan, The Time Traveler’s Wife) ties it all together with a surprising zest that was missing from his previous films. Serving up crisp action, fun multidimensional characters, ace performances and nonstop twists with funny dialogue, Schwentke makes Red perhaps the best pure-fun movie of the year.