We all hear stories of retirees getting restless. Having become so used to doing a specific job, they find it hard to sit still when they're not actively employed anymore. But what if your job consisted of killing people in the company of some of the most dangerous men and women in the world? What could retirement hold for the person who's been everywhere, seen everything, and killed it? Such is the question posed by director Robert Schwentke's Red.
Red, based on the graphic novel by Warren Ellis, tells the story of Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA operative. His life, once rich with adventure, is now dreary and dull. The only pleasures he has are growing a lone avocado and speaking with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), his representative at the pension office. Sarah is in the exact opposite position as Frank, having never had a truly exciting day in her life. She reads tawdry spy romantic thrillers and wishes her life could be more exciting. Frank grants her wish when he finds himself targeted by the CIA for unknown reasons. Abducting Sarah, he attempts to piece together who's behind the attacks, leading him into the arms of his old teammates: Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich), and Victoria (Helen Mirren). He even employs the services of an old enemy, former KGB agent Ivan (Brian Cox). As the CIA, led by Agent William Cooper (Agent Cooper, a nod to Twin Peaks, perhaps?) try to track down Moses and his guys, Moses narrows down the list of suspects until he encounters a surprising villain.
Red does not take itself too seriously. Scwentke knows exactly what kind of film he's making and keeps his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. The cast play right along, and they're all clearly having fun sending up roles they would normally be asked to play straight. Helen Mirren and Brian Cox in particular steal the show as ex-lovers who found themselves stuck on opposite sides of political lines. In general, it's fun to see so many award winning veterans having so much obvious fun on screen. Who says there are no good parts for older actors in Hollywood these days? Aside from the main cast, the movie is full of memorable cameos, including Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfuss.
Surprisingly, Schwentke, last seen directing the tearjerker The Time Traveler's Wife, doesn't make the mistake of many recent action directors and actually lets the audience see what's happening in any given action sequence. Of particular note is a shoot out between Moses and Cooper in New Orleans that involves a thrilling stunt with a car. You'd think the preponderance of older actors would require quicker cuts to avoid the appearance of their stunt doubles, but Schwentke keeps things on an even keel, laying things down for the audience in a clear but concise manner, and it's appreciated.
The younger cast tends to play things more seriously. Karl Urban is dutifully hard-nosed as Agent Cooper, while Nip/Tuck's Julian McMahon is wasted in an insubstantial role (probably the only misstep the film makes). Mary-Louise Parker is the standout. Always excellent on Showtime's Weeds (even as the show itself has gone down the tubes faster than you can say "marijuana peace pipe"), Parker proves she has what it takes to step to the big boys, showing considerable chemistry with Willis. She ably holds her own against the veterans, and with legends like Freeman and Malkovich on board, that's saying something.
Of all the mercenary-based action movies this year, Red is the only one that doesn't bother to take itself seriously, and consequently is the only one really worth seeing. Between seeing a dream cast of older actors having the time of their lives, a fun script, and good action, Red stands apart from so many of the disappointments that have littered the cinematic landscape this year