POSTED ON OCTOBER 20, 2010:
Old heroes join forces once more in Red
Geriatrics Warriors. John Malkovich(left), Morgan Freeman(center) and Bruce Willis(right) portray retired spies who are being hunted down by the Guatemalans in the action-comedy Red.
Some people spend their retirement basking in the opportunity to do things work never allowed them to do. Travel, spend time with family, focus on a new hobby, patter around the garage using all the woodworking tools that hang on hooks, sculpt the greatest yard in the history of the neighborhood, or do absolutely nothing. All good choices for the recently retired.
For others though, retirement is a bitch. These poor sods spend their entire lives lost in various routines of working life. When their jobs are gone, their days are suddenly a collection of quiet hours with nothing much to actually do. Day after day, week after week. For these cursed people, boredom is the main attribute of their new, non-active lifestyle. What can they do with the endless months and years lined up in front of them other than be depressed that they aren't doing anything else?
Retirement is even trickier when the career that has disappeared into a fog of memories was exciting, unpredictable and adrenaline fueled. You know, like being a spy who topples rogue governments, or an assassin told to bump off evil people in unknown corners of the world. For these people, retirement is the last thing they actually want to do in their old age.
That's the kind of unsatisfied retirement Bruce Willis and co-horts find themselves facing in Red, a fun, formulaic bit of action comedy from director Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler's Wife). Red won't break any new ground with its blending of comedy and action, but it is a breezy, lightweight, charming bit of genre filmmaking all the same.
Willis plays Frank Moses, ex-C.I.A. agent, adrift in retirement hell. Frank wakes up early for solitary workouts in the basement, eats alone in his silent house in wintry suburbia and likes to pass the time by flirting with a particular female customer service employee over the phone every few days. We don't see much of his life, but what we do see looks fairly dull. All this changes when armed unknowns show up in the middle of the night and literally obliterate his house with a storm of bullets.
Frank obviously has too much skill to be knocked off this early in Red and he's suddenly on the lam, looking up all the people he used to work with, while abducting the phone-girl he likes since her connection to him puts her in danger. First stop is a retirement home in Louisiana and Joe (Morgan Freeman); then it's the swampy everglades of Florida and Marvin (John Malkovich); last up is Victoria (Helen Mirren), one of the best people at doing "wet" work (killing people) in the business.
Now that the travelogue portion of the film has commenced and Frank gets the old crew back together, it's time to find out why they have been fingered to be erased and who is doing the ordering. Guatemala. It won't be much of a surprise to find out it won't go well for whomever these geriatrics go after. They might be old and retired, but it hasn't diminished their knowledge in the slightest. This is a Hollywood movie, so they can still throw down in fistfights, shootouts and car chases against any juvenile whippersnappers three decades younger than them. Bet on it.
Red will not blind you with originality, but that isn't really what it wants to do. It's a safe story collecting a lot of things we've seen in films before about old bonds renewed while unleashing all the appropriate bells and whistles of the current action style of the day. Expect loudness, explosions, slow motion and lots of jokes. It mostly works despite its unoriginal backbone.
Willis, Freeman and Malkovich can play these characters in their sleep as we've seen all of them as these types many times. That doesn't mean it's not fun to watch, as there's a reason people like seeing them play particular kinds of characters -- they do these types amazingly well. Put them all together doing what they do best with some solid one-liners and it's still enjoyable despite its lack of newness. Now, seeing Helen Mirren cradling a sniper's rifle while calmly mowing down individuals is something you don't see all that much.
For instance, it's no surprise that John Malkovich can play a quirky, oddball character that is part eccentric, part dangerous and part humorous. He's done it many times in his long career, but I love seeing Malkovich play these loose cannons. He's the raving, ranting, paranoid, slightly deranged gun-loving spy and he chews up his dialogue without mercy like he often does. He's funny, has impeccable timing and most movies of this genre would be better off having a professional like Malkovich eating scenery from time to time in the film. Just sit back and let Mr. Malkovich do his thing.
Red kind of loses steam in the second half after the whiz-bang pace of the first hour. Part of the amusement is seeing the abilities the older people have unravel to the shock and surprise of the younger government employees trying to catch/kill them. Once we see just how deadly and crafty they are, a lot of the zest is gone. The shootouts, while still super-frenetic, don't have the same appeal without the scrappy edge of the aged v. the youth that takes place early.
Red is a snappy little bit of genre pleasantness. Chock full of likable actors playing familiar roles, it's lighthearted and gone in a blink. Part action film, part comedy, Red makes retirement look fun. That is, if you have these same sort of spy skills that can be dusted off to stop a bunch of people from killing you. I might take an alternate path to retirement. It involves movies, books and naps. Lots and lots of napping.
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