Movie Review: The “RED” Queen

Let’s see Judi Dench do this!

Film: RED
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren
Written by: Jon and Erich Hoeber
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Genre: Action, comedy, dames with guns
Rating: 8 out of 10 / B+

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired black-ops agent living a quiet, uneventful life brightened only by his phone conversations with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), an excitement-starved cubicle drone at the pension office. All of Frank’s training comes back to the forefront, though, when a team of agents arrives at his house to kill him. With Sarah semi-reluctantly at his side, Frank finds out that his old teammates—including the wily Joe (Morgan Freeman) and the LSD-fried Marvin (John Malkovich)—are also being targeted for death, and Frank himself is marked as RED: Retired, Extremely Dangerous. In order to survive, and to find out who’s targeting them all, the team has to rely on all their old skill and connections. Along the way, they enlist help from Victoria (Helen Mirren), a retired MI-6 agent who’s a maestro with a machine gun.

Very loosely based on a limited-issue comic book by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, RED superficially resembles a cross between the cartoony gun fu of Shoot ‘Em Up and the “actors having fun” vibe of the Oceans (Insert Number Here) series. However, it’s not as nihilistic as the former (the violence is copious, but bloodless) or as insufferably smug as the latter. The film certainly comes off much better than its writer and director pedigree would suggest. The Hoeber brothers are responsible for the Kate-Beckinsale-in-Antarctica Whiteout, while director Robert Schwentke gave us such mostly decent-but-unmemorable films like Flightplan and The Time Traveler’s Wife. However, the elements all seem to fall into place here: the action is thrilling, and the comedy is easy and genuine. The film doesn’t grab you by the throat to drag you along with it; it speeds along at an even pace that never seems forced.

Much of that energy is a direct result of the cast. Everybody actually does seem like they’re having a good time, but for the most part there isn’t anyone coasting on auto-pilot. Both Bruce Willis and John Malkovich have done roles like these dozens of times, and even if they don’t always seem like they’re giving it everything, it also doesn’t seem like they’re not trying. Willis’ Frank is a hard-ass bad-ass for sure, but in his scenes with Mary-Louise Parker, he displays sincere charm and charisma. Malkovich, for his part, is amusing-crazy as the paranoid Marvin instead of annoying-crazy (which he seems to do more often than not). Morgan Freeman plays his sly old fox with a light touch that perfectly suits the character. Even the supporting cast comes off well, especially Karl Urban as an ambitious CIA agent hunting Frank down and Rebecca Pidgeon as his steely boss.

But the best scenes, by far, are with Dame Helen Mirren as the coolest chick with a gun in recent memory (sorry, Milla). Watching Mirren in a formal white gown taking aim with an array of automatic weapons is a thrill that few films are able to duplicate. Her Victoria is charming and genteel, but also a master sniper. When Sarah asks Victoria what she does, she simply says, “I kill people, dear,” with a warm, tight smile. She has excellent chemistry with Brian Cox as the team’s ally in the Russian embassy. The main thing keeping the film from being an A- or even an A is that Mirren doesn’t show up until about an hour into the film.

There isn’t much of a plot to the film. It’s something about a government cover-up and war crimes in Guatemala. But that’s not important. The crux of the conflict is never fully explained, and that’s probably a good thing. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the antics of Willis’ team that the plot becomes a blessed afterthought. Still, the film is wildly entertaining without being too eager to please. The scenes with Karl Urban set in the CIA’s Langely headquarters have a quirky, subtle X-Files type of humor, and the action pieces are well-choreographed and entertaining as hell in their absurdity. It’s a brilliant diversionary tactic.

RED goes down remarkably easy, but isn’t so easy as to be forgettable. It’s hard to forget scenes like Bruce Willis and Karl Urban tearing up an office like they’re pro wrestlers, or Helen Mirren operating heavy weaponry. It’s great to remember that action films could actually win you over by being FUN and not just by being loud. Although sometimes loud is okay, too.

Reviewed by JOHNNY M <a href="; title="imageimage