He mightn’t be dying quite as hard as he used to, but Bruce Willis still manages to paint the town Red in this geri-action comedy from director Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler’s Wife), a mildly entertaining comic adaptation in which a bunch of retired CIA agents refuse to let their bad backs and higher insurance premiums get in the way of kicking some serious behind.
You could say it’s similar in premise to Sly Stallone’s The Expendables, but in style, the two couldn’t be more different; if The Expendables were a testosterone-fuelled muscle car, Red would be a souped-up gofer powered by nostalgia. In other words, it plays out a little bit slower than your average blockbuster, maintaining a sophisticated playfulness that helps distinguish it from the likes of Killers, The Losers and The A-Team — all films belonging to the same action-comedy blend that has grossly overpopulated 2010’s release schedule.
Joining Willis is an impressive ensemble cast that includes the ever-graceful Morgan Freeman (Invictus), the ever-nutty John Malkovich (Disgrace) and the always entertaining Helen Mirren (State of Play). Watching The Queen herself spin out from behind cover clutching a sub-machine gun, looking completely blasé as if she’s thinking “let’s get this over with so I can get home before Deal or No Deal”, is one of the more entertaining sights you’re likely to see on the big screen.
Mind you, it doesn’t last. Only for so long can the high-calibre cast conceal the fact that Red is fairly derivative stuff, featuring a plot so patchy and forgettable it mimics the symptoms of dementia.
It begins with a promising romance between Willis and the lovely Mary-Louise Parker (The Spiderwick Chronicles) that quickly dissipates as the film progresses. Willis plays Frank Moses, an esteemed CIA agent of yesteryear now living a lonely suburban life. He gets his kicks talking over the phone to Sarah (Parker), an operator for the government’s pension department. Without warning, a team of trained assassins attempt to silence Frank in the middle of the night, unsuccessfully of course, but it’s enough to cause Frank to worry that Sarah’s life might also be in danger, so he rushes off to her side.
Sarah, however, doesn’t respond well to a man who breaks into her home and effectively kidnaps her, even if it is “for her safety”. It’s essentially the same role we saw Cameron Diaz play earlier this year in Knight and Day, but Parker is eons more enjoyable to watch. Whereas Diaz played an annoying ditz, Parker possesses intelligence and wit, not to mention some genuine chemistry with Willis. Amongst all the heavy hitters – all of whom are in fine form – Parker might just be the film’s best asset.
Gradually, Frank reassembles his old team – ailing intel guy Joe (Freeman), paranoid weapons expert Marvin (Malkovich) and sassy sniper Victoria (Mirren) – in order to figure out why they’re all being hunted by special agent Cooper (a well-cast Karl Urban) and his men.
There’s a solid spread of laughs, but the screenplay by Jon and Erich Hoeber plods along like an old codger who forgot where he was heading long ago, now just passing time recounting stories with whoever will listen. In particular, one awfully overlong scene sees Willis reminisce with a former Russian baddie (Brian Cox) about the simplicity of Cold War-era conflicts, alluding to various fictional characters we’ve never met. It’s a “you had to be there” moment we were never there for. So, erm, what’s the point?
The action set-pieces are fairly imitative, but I do appreciate how Schwentke resists the jerky camerawork and rapid-fire editing we’ve come to expect from Hollywood blockbusters. Refreshingly, we see exactly what’s going on, which is precisely what you want when the likes of Malkovich and Mirren are pumping lead into bad guys with gargantuan guns they’ve seemingly borrowed from Rambo.
It’s a good lesson for kids: respect your elders. Especially those packin’ heat.
Although it’s full of wasted potential, Red is a prime example of a mediocre film elevated by raw star power.