Film review by: Witney Seibold
There’s something kind of old-school about Robert Schwentke’s “RED.” It’s a thriller about classy sixty- and seventysomethings in classy situations, dealing with old school villains like Russians and corrupt politicians. It’s not shot in a gritty, “realistic” shakeycam style, but in a bright, chipper, clear fashion, that lends to humor rather than action. In a way, “RED” is more what this years “Knight and Day” should have been, i.e. one of the better action films of 1994. When people get shot, they only need a few badages and a jumpcut to heal. When a bad guy is cornered, he snarls like a Bond villain, and gives away his obvious plot. When the connection is eventually made to the vice president, we shovel in more popcorn, and cheer for more.
Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired CIA spook. The title refers to his official designation: Retired Extremely Dangerous. He has been carrying on a rather sweet, telephone-only romance with a woman at the social services office named Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) who gossips with him, and tells him all about the lurid spy novels she reads. As is predictable (and everything is predictable in “RED”), Frank is beset by a team of black-clad, machine-gun-toting SWAT-types. “RED” features more of these guys than any other film I’ve seen. Frank, of course, dispatches them, and has to drive two states, kidnap Sarah, and reassemble his old team of CIA buddies.
Sarah is understandably freaked out, but it only takes a few scenes until she’s enjoying the spy novel she finds herself living.
The old buddies? Well, they’re the film’s central selling point. There’s the calm Joe (Morgan Freeman) who spends his days ogling the sexy nurses in his nursing home. There’s the paranoid delusional Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), who lives in an underground cave accessed through the hood of a car, and who was actually part of LSD experiments back in the day. Malkovich is very game in this role. There’s the Russian, naturally named Ivan (Brian Cox) who wistfully recalls the days of the Cold War, and regrets that he has not killed anyone in years. And there’s Victoria, the ex-MI6 dame who can handle guns and silly dialogue with enough class, you would swear she was played by Helen Mirren.
The bad guys on their case are represented by CIA spook Karl Urban, and his ballbusting boss, played by Rebecca Pidgeon. There is a basement-dwelling records keeper played by the 93-year-old Ernest Borgnine. That guy is spry for his age. James Remar shows up in one scene, and the vice president is played by the guy who played Doctor Doom in the “Fantastic Four” movies, Julian McMahon. Oh yes, and I mustn’t forget Richard Dreyfuss who plays the corrupt politician with a danger room and a wicked scheme of some kind. That he invokes his performance as Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone’s “W.” is a wise, wise move.
It’s all very silly. Yes, Helen Mirren fires a big ol’ gun. Yes, Malkovich straps a bomb to his chest. Yes, Willis is a peerless tough guy with a soft heart who ends up charming the sweet Parker. Yes, Freeman appears in a silly-looking blue uniform at one point.
But, for a film that has no surprises and no traces of reality and a bunch of continuity errors (In one scene, the Urban character is arrested. In the next, he’s back at work, no questions asked), it’s rather entertaining. If you, like me, are tired of Hollywood’s default position of “gritty” when it comes to their action films, you will, like me, enjoy the rockheaded trifle of “RED.”