Film review – Red (2010)

Red: Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and Sarah Roses (Mary-Louise Parker)
Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and Sarah Roses (Mary-Louise Parker)

While Kick-Ass asked what if teenagers and tweens acted like superheros, Red asks what happens to elite CIA black-op agents after they retire. In the case of Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) it is to live a simple life of routine that involves finding excuses to phone pension office worker Sarah Roses (Mary-Louise Parker). When Frank is attacked by a hit squad he is forced to take Sarah and himself into hiding and then track down his former team members to fight back and figure out what is going on.

Based on a short DC comic miniseries written by Warren Ellis, Red is a fun blend of action and comedy. It establishes early that the action is going to be slightly over-the-top, finding a comfortable middle ground between realism and completely ludicrous. Most importantly is that the action is not one constant blur of rapidly edited set pieces but consists of scenes that are strategically peppered throughout the film. The action is frequently very inventive with something different happening in every sequence, ensuring that the film never succumbs to the sensation of it all feeling a bit same-old.

Red: Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren)
Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren)

The performances are great with John Malkovich in particular having a marvellous time as the group’s more paranoid and crazy member. It is also very cool seeing Helen Mirren packing some serious firepower, and Morgan Freeman and Brian Cox are also good as the other retirees with attitude. However, the real standout is Mary-Louise Parker who steals every scene she is in and even out-charms Bruce Willis. Parker has marvellous comedic timing and is by far the ingredient that really makes Red as fun as it is.

Unfortunately, Red does drag in the final act. The action stops being as fresh and Parker’s character is pushed to the side too much. Also, despite the early promise of something a little more darkly funny and edgy, Red gets surprisingly tame. A lot of scenes of mass carnage and gunfire result in no causalities as the film becomes overly concerned with making sure none of the innocents get caught in the crossfire, despite the extent that this distractingly threatens suspension of disbelief. The final act is not terrible; it just doesn’t live up to the promise of the first two acts. While not in the same league as Kick-Ass or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Red is still overall a playful and highly entertaining action/comedy.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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