Now available on DVD, “Red” features an all-star cast of screen veterans: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren. Throw in Mary Louise Parker as Willis’ love interest (no comments about Kutcher/Moore, please) and longish cameos by Richard Dreyfuss and Ernest Borgnine (yes, “Marty” lives!), and you have an appealing ensemble for the movie’s ubiquitous TV commercials. If the whole doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts, it’s more the fault of the script than the actors.
Director Robert Schwentke and screenwriters Jon and Eric Hoeber work with a story from a graphic novel, and that’s part of the problem. Though this purports to be a comedy—that’s sure the message the ads conveyed—the tone is too inconsistent, the violence too persistent, and the laughs too spotty for it to work as such. (The violence and a bit of profanity earn it an appropriate “PG-13” rating.) Attempting to be true to its origins, the movie jumps around, the cinematography gets in your face, and the “action” sequences are literally incredible. All this may serve to spoof the very action/comedy genre which Willis, for instance, knows so well, but it lacks the energy of the “Die Hard” series which has become the aging superstar’s signature.
The languor sets in early on, as former CIA agent Frank Moses arises, puts out the trash in his suburban Cleveland neighborhood, and notes that his is the only house on the block lacking Christmas yard ornaments. The action picks up when he calls Sarah (Parker), a government retirement office worker in Kansas City, to complain that his check hasn’t arrived—again. He takes the occasion to flirt with her, clearly the highlight of his month and his barren life. (The sole decoration in his sterile house is a sprouting avocado pit.)
So when a hit squad tears apart his house one early morning, he and we are perplexed. But he’s savvy enough to head to KC, snatch the girl—who may be in danger because of her association with him—and speed off into the night, just ahead of the numerous people sent to kill him. Among this legion are a young CIA agent, William Cooper (Karl Urban), with a family back in D.C., a needlessly complicating factor that the filmmakers obviously couldn’t resist, given the siren call of Tom Clancy movies.
On the road, he picks up several of his former CIA buddies and/or antagonists, most notably Freeman, Malkovich, and Mirren. All of them are in various stages of unhappiness about their retirement, so they not so reluctantly join Frank in his quest to find out who’s after him and some of them. (Don’t ask why: I don’t have enough space to describe the back story.) Of the bunch, Malkovich, playing a paranoid survivalist who shows the effects of eleven years as an LSD experimental subject, brings the most life to the screen. Oscar-winner Mirren is enjoyable as ever, though I sometimes felt she had wandered into the wrong movie. Maybe it was the temptation to fire off lots of heavy weaponry, a rare treat for her.
Parker, showing her own age a bit, is fetching as a romance-reader who fears her spirit is suffocating in her cubicle prison. She adds some twinkle to the proceedings, and her character is the only one who shows any development—always a treat. You won’t be surprised to learn that Willis gets the girl and, to some extent, his life back, the movie concluding with a tongue-in-cheek happy ending.
“Red” won’t win any awards, though it made some money on the strength of its cast, who appear to have joined in for the fun (and the profit) of it. If you wish to contribute to their well-being in old age, go for it.