Film review – Red (2010)

20 October 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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Film review – Cop Out (2010)

17 March 2010

Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis) and Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan)

In the very first scene in Cop Out long-term loose-cannon police partners Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis) and Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan) discuss the nature of famous cop film homages. The conversation introduces an element of self-awareness, which is very quickly capitalised on with a throwaway reference to Die Hard, and alerts the viewer that Cop Out wants to be regarded as a homage to 1980s cop buddy films such as Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hrs and Lethal Weapon. The combination of overacting, cheesy electronic music, stereotypical Mexican drug lord villains and weak plot about recovering a baseball card certainly all suggest that Cop Out could work as a post-modern pastiche. However, there are far too many instances when director Kevin Smith actually appears to believe that the mediocre script is funny in its own right. Unfortunately, it’s mostly not.

This is the first time that Smith has directed somebody else’s script and it’s an odd thing for Smith to do considering that directing is not his forte and his strength has always been in his writing. His directorial presence in Cop Out can be felt and many of the gags do feel like the sort of thing he would write himself but too much of the film falls flat. Sometimes Cop Out feels like a clever student film (what Smith does best) and sometimes it just feels like a badly directed B-movie.

Dave (Seann William Scott)

Bruce Willis spends most of his time looking bemused by it all while Smith unwisely gives Tracy Morgan free-reign and the results are a lot of frequently annoying shouted tirades. There are some moments of genuine hilarity, courtesy of an 11-year-old car thief and Seann William Scott once again doing his trademark lovable smartass routine as a thief. But mostly your laughs will be more nervous giggles from hoping that the clunky dialogue and lame gags are intentionally inane.

A good homage, or even a good affectionate parody, is a combination of genuine love and respect from the filmmaker for the films being referenced with a heightened awareness of the conventions of the genre and an ability to do something new and fresh. Scream and Shaun of the Dead are examples of when this worked for the horror genre. Smith obviously loves the 1980s cop films that he is referencing but with Cop Out he’s done nothing innovative or particularly entertaining with his expression of that love. Cop Out could have been an American equivalent of Hot Fuzz but it instead feels like an anachronistic forgotten film that you once owned on VHS.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Lucky Number Slevin (aka The Wrong Man) (2006)

7 August 2006

Director Paul McGuigan’s best film to date is still the English gangster film Gangster No. 1 from 2000. However, the major problem with Gangster No. 1 is the same problem that plagues McGuigan’s latest effort Lucky Number Slevin. Both films suffer from a very weak final third act but while Gangster No. 1 was salvageable, the direction that Lucky Number Slevin takes completely ruins what initially promises to be a good film.

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Film review – Unbreakable (2000)

15 December 2000

Comparisons to M. Night Shyamalan’s smash hit The Sixth Sense are going to be inevitable when reviewing Unbreakable, the latest film he has written, produced, and directed. While not as good as The Sixth Sense, it is still worth seeing even though there are elements that let it down. The major problems in Unbreakable seem to be the result of Shyamalan trying too hard to re-create the mood of The Sixth Sense.

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