A tired joke done right: movie review of “Red”
November 17, 2010
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If you pay just a little attention to movie trailers these days, it’s easy to see a pattern. Studios seem to be scrambling to produce the next popular action film or “older people reuniting to prove they’ve still got it” movie. And it’s easy to see why. Just take a look at the success of “The Expendables,” Sylvester Stallone’s latest work.
But it also goes without saying that this particular blending of genres can be a little exhausting as well. At some point, it’s like, “We get it; you’re old and you’re beating people up.” So, going into the theater to see the movie “Red,” I did feel some trepidation.
“Red” is the new film from Summit and DC Entertainment. Although DC has the rights to the film, and “Red” is based on a graphic novel by the same name, DC did not originally publish the graphic novel. Instead, it was written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Cully Hamner for Homage Comics.
The film adaptation was written by Joe and Erich Hoebner and directed by Robert Schwentke. The film, which carries a PG-13 rating, stars Bruce Willis as Frank Moses, a retired black-ops agent for the CIA (RED stands for Retired: Extremely Dangerous).
After an unknown group attempt to assassinate him, Moses tries to uncover a nefarious plot involving the government and some vaguely-described events from the 1980s. Moses, along with his love interest, Sarah (played by Mary-Louise Parker), reunites his former team of generic CIA bad-asses, including the lovely Helen Mirren as Victoria, Morgan Freeman as Joe Matheson, and John Malkovich as the hilarious and eccentric Marvin Boggs.
Moses and his team have known each other for a long time, and, despite their ages, they still have a firm grip on their espionage and combat abilities. They move from one scene to another, taking out bad guys and laughing about their age. This joke does wear thin, unfortunately.
Meanwhile, Karl Urban plays the antagonist, Agent William Cooper, and provides a strong, intense performance. In fact, one of the best moments of the movie, at least in my opinion, involves a surprisingly intense fist fight between Moses and Urban. It was exciting, I’ll admit, to see Bruce Willis still kicking butt, even if it wasn’t entirely realistic.
The action sequences, in general, offer nothing new. There are bombs, ridiculous car chases/collisions, and other massive amounts of collateral damage, not to mention an over-abundance of clichéd villains – the corrupt government officials, the masked assassins, the slightly offensive Russian baddy named Ivan.
But it’s the humor and overall attitude behind this ridiculousness that makes this movie not suck. The spies, the fighting, the bad guys – it’s all in jest. This movie, at its very core, is in many ways a parody of the genre it adopts.
For example, in the beginning of the movie, Frank Moses is seen doing mundane household things, including receiving a pension check. This is pretty ridiculous and calls to question what spies like James Bond would do if they ever retired. This sets the tone of the rest of the movie.
John Malkovich’s performance, however, is the real appeal of the movie. He plays Marvin, a man who is overly-paranoid from years of government experimentation with LSD. Throughout the film, he wastes the bad guys ruthlessly, all while maintaining an odd child-like quality (He carries his guns in a stuffed animal, for example).
Because of Malkovich and the general mood of the entire film, it was much more enjoyable than expected. While it did tend to fall back on the “old but awesome” joke too much, the performances were solid, the writing was hilarious, and the campiness of the action was even entertaining. The important thing to remember is not to go in expecting it to be thought-provoking or life-altering. It’s a simple but extremely fun film, and it did not disappoint.