RED (2010) dir. Robert Schwentke
Starring: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary Louise Parker, Karl Urban, Brian Cox, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfuss
By Greg Klymkiw
Having seen over 30,000 movies is both a blessing and a curse. It gets to a point where good just isn't good enough and RED, the new action comedy with Bruce Willis and an all-star cast genuinely falls short of good. But who knows? If I were less discriminating and/or just a normal moviegoer, it's conceivable I'd have liked this movie better than I did.
The story, or coat-hanger if you will, is relatively simple. Bruce Willis plays a former black-ops CIA agent in retirement who finds himself being targeted for assassination. He rounds up his old crew (John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman), also retired and themselves, assassination targets. Together they fight back the agency thug (Karl Urban) put in charge of their extermination and a veritable army of assassins. Receiving able assistance from a former foe (Brian Cox), our loveable team make sure bullets fly and that things blow up real good. Oh yeah, and Bruce finds love in an unlikely place: a bureaucrat (Mary Louise Parker) responsible for sending out his pension cheque whom he flirts with over the telephone and who, in turn, also becomes a target by association.
The movie has a genuinely amiable quality. The cast is appealing (Helen Mirren is especially sexy when handling firearms), the pyrotechnics passably directed (with a couple of spectacular set pieces) and the script is full of laughs.
Hmm. This is starting to sound pretty good. It's not, though.
So with all of the above, why then, does the picture feel so negligible? Much like The Town (but with lots of yucks) the movie suffers from a bad case of been there, done that. Familiarity can breed contempt, but in the case of RED it breeds occasional yawns. There isn't a single plot twist that seemed original and at every step of the way, I was well ahead of the picture.
While this sort of by-the-numbers thriller can get by on craft alone (which I'll admit it almost does), it's missing several vital ingredients. It's too damn amiable! You never get a sense of real danger - at one point, the film tries to show us what a mean, cold son of a bitch Willis was as a CIA special-op, but soon, he's back to being charming. This flip-flop tone can only really work in the hands of a master. Director Robert Schwentke is hardly in that category, though - he's at best, competent.
Speaking of competence, the movie also has little by way of a voice or even a point of view that feels like its coming from somewhere on or off camera. When Peckinpah occasionally did a straight-up action picture, it was injected with his remarkable style - jittery, nasty AND all the other things that are the attributes of RED. When I think about The Getaway or The Killer Elite, those pictures ramp up the macho zing, but do so in a way where you feel like you are not watching an episode of the TV series The A-Team, only aimed at big screen consumption - kind of like, uh... well, The A-Team movie from this past summer.
It's finally too safe. No chances are taken and subsequently, one leaves the theatre feeling full the way one feels after a Big Mac Meal - it was okay while it lasted, but about half and hour later, you've got a sluggish feeling and, damn it all, you're kind of hungry again and/or nauseated.
I still can't allow myself to completely trash the picture. I think many people will enjoy it in that fast food way and frankly, it's too innocuous to get riled up over. Besides, it IS not without entertainment value. Non-discriminating audiences can check their brains at the boxoffice and have a good time, then go back to whatever pathetic life they have and live it, secure that they have not wasted their hard-earned dough at the box office. (It's sad that movies have come to this - when all an audience wants is to not feel ripped-off, while us cineaste snobs take what crumbs we can find.)
In fairness, though, there are two elements of the picture that are above and beyond the call of duty. First of all, John Malkovich is out of this world. His performance as the nutcase of the bunch is truly inspired comic acting and is the one thing that stays with you long after the picture is over. Not much else does, but he certainly earns his paycheque and then some. Secondly, it's so nice to see a muscular adventure with people who aren't, well... for lack of a better word, young. The old farts in the picture acquit themselves very nicely and the movie should appeal to both octogenarians and teenage boys and everything in between. That said, not a single character believably experiences the pain of old age the way someone like William Holden in The Wild Bunch did. The movie dips its toe into these waters, but never gets its hair wet.
Finally, take this as a compliment or a slag, but RED is never threatening and possesses equal appeal for the ladies, allowing couples of all ages to indulge in genre hanky-panky without feeling sullied.
As mentioned earlier, I feel like I could almost love or, at least, like the movie.
Luckily or sadly, I don't and can't.
"Almost" is the operative word here.
And yes, it's supposed to be a comic book movie, but that certainly doesn't mean it needs to feel so featherweight. I'm a huge fan of Raimi's Spiderman pictures - all of which have that extra snap, crackle and pop that this film lacks - a little something called style.
In its favour though, the film features a great cameo from Ernest Borgnine and, at the very least, doesn't feel like a Brett Ratner film. Hell, that's almost enough to recommend it highly.
RED is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from EOne Entertainment.