2010 has not been a happy year for high-ranking American mercenaries/CIA agents. In The Expendables, they had to go against one of their own; in The Losers, they were betrayed and forced to go on the run; in The A-Team, they were wrongfully jailed and similarly had to go on the run; and now in Red, they’re being hunted by hi-tech assassins. There’s also the fact that two of these films kinda sucked, but I’m sure their cast members had lots of fun.
Red is based on the comic book mini-series of the same name by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, and is much more lighthearted and wacky than its darkly toned source material. It revolves around a gang of aged ex-killers, one of whom has unfortunately been marked as R.E.D., a code which stands for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”, although “Ridiculously Entertaining Distraction” could have also applied.
This bald-skulled pensioner is Frank Moses (action hero Bruce Willis), a former black-ops CIA agent who now lives an idyllic, peaceful life in his quaint suburban home. He has a crush on the voice of the young Sarah Ross (Weeds’ Mary-Louise Parker), the telephone operator who handles his pension cheques, and who he has only spoken to over the phone.
One night, Frank’s house is invaded by rifle-bearing, balaclava-faced assailants, each of which the dressing gown clad Brucie either knocks unconscious or kills before escaping. He goes to Kansas City and takes the kicking and screaming Sarah with him – using duct tape and handcuffs – in fear that she is in danger too, what with his constant phone calls to her.
Chased by a team of professional killers – which is headed by CIA agent William Cooper (Star Trek‘s Karl Urban) – Frank begins reassembling his old (literally) team along with Sarah, scouring the country to find them one by one and discovering facts about the dangerous situation along the way.
In Red, our main characters are the sort of antiheroes who really know how to kick some ass. When there’s someone sneakily approaching them with an AK-47, our heroes are guaranteed to have an automatic weapon at the ready, their fingers on the trigger before their foe has even aimed their gun. During shoot-outs, they know when to step out from their hiding spot so that they don’t get shot, and they seem to always have a bullet-proof force-field around them that shells ping off of when enemies attempt to take them out. “I’m too old for this shit” doesn’t apply to them.
To sum it up, the film is practically a cartoon, a factor which just makes it all the more entertaining. German director Robert Schwentke keeps the constant action scenes energetic and lively, keeping up creative filming techniques and seemingly grinning throughout as the leads of a certain age cause some chaos. Working with cinematographer Florian Ballhaus, the Flightplan director has made Red a visual treat that doesn’t grow tired.
Die Hard star Bruce Willis is just as John McClane-ish as ever, although when is he not? His sarcastic wit is in full-force here with a character who is reliving the good old days of playing with bullets and beating up bad guys. His love interest, co-star Parker, is lovely as an attractive, charming but lonely phone lady for Pension Services who’s suddenly catapulted into a world of car chases, explosions and Bruce Willis’ bald head.
The legendary Oscar-winning Dame Helen Mirren is extravagant as Victoria Winslow, one of Frank’s previous associates. The juxtaposition of what appears to be a sweet, sixty plus, posh-tongued English tea-slurper, with a soon-revealed personality of a cold-blooded, machine-gun-blasting mega-bitch is utilised to great effect. “So if you break his heart, I will kill you,” she warns Sarah. “And bury your body in the woods.” She’s like an upper-class, elderly Hit Girl.
Also portraying Frank’s long-time pals are film-stealer John Malkovich as Marvin Boggs, and Morgan Freeman as Joe Matheson. Boggs is a paranoid nutter who we are told once underwent daily doses of LSD for 11 years, resulting in his current delusional state. Malkovich’s comic timing is fabulous, deliriously delivering quirky one-liners, robbing each scene he’s in. Freeman for once isn’t playing the narrator, but is instead a calm – if cheeky – chap suffering from stage 4 liver cancer, but he can get his fists ready for some face-pounding and trigger-pulling whenever necessary.
It’s a stupendous cast which takes part in Red‘s classy quality alongside the film’s cartoonish nature. The chemistry between our leads is extravagant, as well as with memorable roles from Richard Dreyfuss as a protected, villainous CEO; 93-year-old Ernest Borgnine as the CIA archive guy; Brian Cox as a Russian operative and former lover of Victoria; and relentless baddie Karl Urban who’s chasing after our leads.
The storyline gets a smidge muddled at points, but whenever this occurs, it’s guaranteed that an action scene is just around the corner, so who cares? When it’s cool, it’s very cool. When it’s funny, it’s very funny. Red is a flat-out crowd-pleaser, and if you ain’t part of the crowd, well then it sucks to be you.
Eight outta ten