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Red: A Shade of New, And Thank God For It

By Megan Lane · October 18, 2010

In our current post-modern era of filmmaking, it is common belief among movie snobs that no one creates anything original anymore.  All movies are just a play off of another movie.  Stories are recycled (see my review of Avatar).  But more than that, movies are self-reflective in that they draw attention to themselves and their genre.  Red is a prime example of this phenomenon.  It is an action movie that asks the question, what happens to our genre’s heroes when they retire?  Do they forget everything they’ve seen?  Red almost feels like the fourth installment of a franchise rather than an original piece of material.  But is that necessarily a bad thing?  I would venture to say that it is not. 

In Red, Frank (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA agent, is on the run after he learns the CIA wants him dead.  To save himself, he gets a crew of RED (retired, extremely, dangerous) agents Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) to figure out why the government is after him, hunt the men who ordered the hit, and save the life of his new girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker).

Just as with any action movie, the real problem was the actual story.  What we gather is this: something shady went down in Guatemala back in 1981 and now, twenty years later, anyone who was there needs to be “taken care of.”  As you can already tell, the plot is extremely thin.  Adding to that, our heroes, currently on this hit list, clearly haven’t thought about Guatemala.  They don’t even remember it until they find the file.  So why does the CIA go to so much trouble to take out people who don’t even really care that this happened?  Not really sure, but there was a cool gunfight at a shipyard so I’m happy.

Aside from the action, the characters were definitely the highlight of the film. When you think of an action movie, you think of the cast of The Expendables not Oscar winning actors.  Yet two of the five main castmembers Red are Oscar winners and another was nominated (p.s.  it sickens me that John Malkovich has not won as Oscar).  And from this film we have so much more than super cool action sequences and big explosions (don’t worry, we still have both those things).

John Malkovich is the stand-out playing a CIA operative that was given daily doses of LSD for most of his life.  But still, you’re rooting for that crazy mother-f***er.  In one scene in particular, he’s convinced that a woman is tailing them.  As everyone insists he is mistaken, there is a look of heartbreak and pain on his face, desperately hoping that he’s still got it.  And the audience is right there with him, hoping for the same.

Helen Mirren was also fantastic as the expert marksman and hopeless romantic.  I don’t think I’d ever classified her as sexy before, but now she’s definitely made the cut.  In all honesty, I’d probably do her before Mary-Louise Parker at this point. 

Basically, it is clear that writers Erich and Jon Hoeber truly love their characters and producers found the type of cast that can love them as much as they do.

I just wish director Robert Schwentke had chosen to utilize Morgan Freeman a little more.  I mean, if you got Morgan Freeman to be in your movie, wouldn’t you chose to maximize that?  Though the action sequences were incredible, in particular the office fight between Bruce Willis and Karl Urban, his dramatic beats were slightly off.  There could have been a lot more emotional pay-off.

Action movies are fun.  Red was fun.  And even though it followed the typical formula that action movies follow, the characters and acting separated it from the pack to make it the second most entertaining film I’ve seen this fall (read my other reviews and guess what got first place.  Just guess, I dare you).  Perhaps we should all consider keeping typical action stars out of our action movies.

3 out of 4 rouge colored kicks in the rear end.