Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
Well, they’ve finally done it. They have made a bullet-blasting action film without using buckets of blood and scores of dead bodies, without having every other word in the script being the dreaded f-bomb, and with a star-packed cast of the highest caliber. The film is called Red, which is an acronym for “Retired; Extremely Dangerous” and it’s even based on a comic book, or graphic novel if you prefer.
A retired C.I.A. agent, played by Bruce Willis who has his best role since the original Die Hard, is marked for termination despite the fact he’s living a benign existence in a benign suburb in Cleveland. His only spark in life is once a month when he has a phone conversation with the bored civil servant who is charge of issuing his pension check. He is sight-unseen smitten, and she is also intrigued. The lady in question is played by the delightful Mary-Louise Parker, from the cable series Weeds, in what may be her best film role to date.
When the hit squad shows up at his door, this ultra-talented super-agent dispatches them all with ease, and begins his quest to find out why, and who ordered him killed. But the plot is not particularly important other than to have Willis get back together with some of his old cronies, now also retired, to enlist their assistance. Morgan Freeman is consigned to a retirement home in New Orleans, and is bored out of his skull. Helen Mirren has a New England estate where she does flower arranging while keeping an automatic weapon at arms reach, and occasionally takes a freelance assignment just to stay active. The paranoid and goofy John Malkovich lives in a remote area of Florida, complete with camouflage and all manner of trickery. And, of course, along the way, Willis connects with Parker and drags her along, unwilling at first, on his odyssey of discovery. Each change of location involves a title card, in the form of a post card, announcing where you’re going. One of them, through an unexpected bit of animation, provides one of the best laughs in the film.
Yes, it has moments of suspense, and plenty of action, but the real heart of the film is how the characters all mesh. Not only do these people seem to genuinely like each other, the actors seem to be having a lot of fun in the process. In addition to our lineup of stars, there are also turns by Brian Cox, the first Hannibal Lecter, as a Russian agent who also has history with the crew; Richard Dreyfuss as a sniveling political hack; and for a couple of scenes, the wonderful Ernest Borgnine, who, at age ninety-three, is still working like the legend he is.
This is not to say that Red is a perfect film by any means. Parts of it seem disjointed, it drags a bit towards the end, and some of the plot points are so obvious as to be laughable. But those are minor quibbles, since the real joy in Red is watching these terrific troupers bring life to comic book characters, and in the process create an action film that is also rather sweet and charming. And you haven’t lived until you’ve watched the Oscar-winning Dame Helen Mirren hefting a machine gun.
The PG-13 rated Red is now playing just about everywhere.