Red is a likable, action-violent romp with some good laughs and the amiable company of a game, smart cast who just barely, maybe, manage to rise above worn and reworn material to reward a casual viewing. Take it or leave it. If you're a big fan of Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Richard Dreyfuss (as who isn't?) or New Zealander Karl Urban, I'm sure you're already there.
The film begins with a telephone romance between Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker). They've never met, but a warm and witty chemistry built from repeated conversations seems to divert them both. Pretty quickly some fireworks start, and taking it on the lam, Moses becomes suspicious that whomever is hunting for him may involve Sarah as a pawn.
So to pick up Sarah so she can be personally protected, and then to keep on keeping on in the face of gunfire and official opposition to investigate and maneuver in the affair of Who Is Killing Ex-CIA Officers Like Moses and why, and whom to blow up to make it stop.
The chemistry here between Willis and Parker should in no way work. As in Knight and Day, it makes little sense. But some playfulness and good dialogue keep it light, bantery and yet consequential enough to get the job done. And why have we never seen them together before? More please.
That said, there is a major terrible shopworn plot occurence I won't reveal here, but which leaves a bit of a sour taste. There's no good reason for it. It's not commentary on the device. It's just a bad device, repeated completely without irony or humor, and it makes even the stuff that really works and holds together seem a little more lackluster. It has to do with Morgan Freeman's character.
Freeman plays, yes, another retired CIA tough on the current hit list, Joe Matheson. He has very little to do. At the same time it's disappointing that he doesn't join in much of the fun parts of the movie, and his part is so small, on the other hand, it's kind of cool that he's accorded that kind of respect. Why should he get all wrapped up in this silly movie? He's Morgan Freeman. I'd feel lucky if he'd deign to cash a paycheck for any kind of project I might be working on, and be honest, you probably would, too. Still, I kind of missed him.
The rest of the crew of "Retired, Extremely Dangerous" agents is made up of Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), fond of explosives and acid, Victoria (Helen Mirren) an elegant machine-gunner, and honorary (not CIA nor on the current hit list) member Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox), the randy Marlon Brando of ex-KGB. Victoria and Simanov have a little history and some nice interaction.
Richard Dreyfuss plays Alexander Dunning, a shady quasi-intelligence figure with ties to the vice president, Robert Stanton, a character who uses Bill Clinton's '92 logo (and Primary Colors moniker), Cheney's m.o., Dan Quayle and George W. Bush's backstory, and Bobby Kennedy's face to achieve not much. At its best, the film recalls Get Shorty or North by Northwest. It has competent editing and forward motion, a bluesy rock score, some pretty good jokes and some (not vibrantly sustained) charm.
Red really does trip on some lameness. It's not as smart or fun as The Losers or The Expendables. But particularly Willis and Parker and their zany, dreamy relationship, Mirren's and Malkovich's best moments put it over the top for a recommendation from me. You don't have to pay much attention to it.
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