It is difficult not to stare in disbelief when you see the billing for Red in its trailer. Its cast: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox
John Malkovich, Mary Louise Parker, Karl Urban, Richard Dreyfuss and Julian McMahon. That’s a whole stack of Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes right there. Even more preposterous is actually watching these actors in thae film. This is a pulpy action flick, as pulpy as they come. It’s highly reminiscent of 80s and 90s action films. It is a film that has to be seen to be believed.
The ridiculousness that is the plot: Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired CIA officer who spends his time chatting with a call centre girl, Sarah (May Louise Parker) who writes pulpy espionage thrillers on the side. One fine day, Frank’s house is attacked by ruthless assassins and suddenly, he discovers he is on a CIA hit list. He is codenamed Red (Retired Extremely Dangerous). Together with Sarah, he reunites with his old friends, the calm Joe (Freeman), the crazy Marvin (Malkovich) and the elegant Victoria (Mirren) to figure out why this is happening.
The plot is reminiscent of recent films like The A-Team, The Expendables and The Losers. However, Red is definitely the most entertaining of these films. This is because, despite its unbelievable (and fairly routine) plot, it finds an interesting mix of unexpectedly charming romance and cackling humour interspersed with some highly entertaining action set pieces. The dialogues shine in places and in others, the cast makes them shine. The action work, thankfully spares us of the headache inducing, shaky camera close ups (like those in The A-Team and most other mainstream action films in recent times) that tend to confuse rather than entertain. Although they keep it relatively simple, the action sequences work as they are outrageously entertaining in their obnoxiousness.
Of course, there are several weaknesses here: the film takes half its run-time to set up its initial characters; Mirren doesn’t even enter the scene till near the half way mark. The film should've been trimmed by at least 20 minutes. Also, one can’t help but feel that these characters deserve a better adventure much like the ones they yearn for from their Cold War days.
Nevertheless, the film is saved by some solid performances. Malkovich and Mirren get away with most of the best lines. Malkovich is riotous in his crazy act. Willis plays the action star yet again, effortlessly as always. Brian Cox is endearing as the Russian spy who loves his vodka and reminisces about the good old times. Dreyfuss gets away with a few brilliant lines despite a small role. Karl Urban and Mary Louise-Parker are adequate. Freeman is unfortunately, wasted.
However, few things, to this writer’s simple mind, are cooler and crazier than watching Helen Mirren wield a Gatling Gun, an Uzi and a Sniper Rifle among others. She is the embodiment of charm, spirit, intelligence and elegance in films like The Queen, State of Play and Calendar Girls. Yet, when she gets behind the gun, the elegance is replaced with a cold, borderline maniacal determination which screams, “You don’t want to mess with me!” She is, without a doubt, the best thing about the film.
At the end of the day, Red has its share of weaknesses. It does fully deliver on its premise. It’s just that you wish it were a better premise considering the talent involved. Nevertheless, the cast , some good lines and a very satisfying second half put it miles above many of the action films you have seen this year. This one’s yet another trifle, but an entertaining one.