The combined resumes of the cast of RED is staggeringly impressive, and having Bruce Willis lead a crew not particularly known for lighter fare drives the feel and flavor of a film that might easily have had no ability to find footing. Yet another graphic novel translation, this one brings us an older collection of action heroes, branded Retired Extremely Dangerous, and the mix of “changing of the guard” and “distaste for the new guard,” gives us a broader landscape than most action-oriented bits of fun.
Frank Moses (Willis) is getting on in years, at least from a spy game perspective if no other, and the best he’s managed in the normal life department is a relationship over the phone with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), who he calls repeatedly at work just for the chance to chat. When a Black Ops squad shows up at his door, he’s suddenly on the run with no idea why, and he is unfortunately correct in his guess that whoever they are, they’re likely to go after Sarah just as a matter of routine.
Because he’s never met her in person, her rescue turns into more of a kidnapping, and with no idea what move to make next, Frank has to revisit his old mates if he wants to figure out why someone wants him out of the picture now.
Of course, we know that this is CIA sanctioned, and operative William Cooper (Karl Urban) is now assigned to take care of Frank, and a mostly familiar hunt is on. Frank moves deeper into things, meeting with several of his old cohorts (John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox), and slowly unravels a complex set of circumstances that ultimately lead, naturally, to the very top of the food chain. All the while, Frank, with Sarah in tow, is ducking and dodging with the best of them. After all, he may be a little older, but he actually is the best of them.
It’s an interesting spin on a genre that is largely being taken over with the curious irony that it is mostly boring, and the inclusion of so much charm and personality pushes things along in a way that is refreshingly clever. However, most of the film’s best efforts, and much of its ultimate appeal, may be lost on those not willing or able to play with the mental puzzle that is Helen Mirren letting fly with a variety of spectacular machine guns.
As an action film, there are many moments when the pace feels oddly slow, and the focus is heavy on the word rather than gunplay, but there is probably a fair argument that this makes sense. Morgan Freeman may or may not pull a trigger, but he isn’t pulling off a lot of derring-do. There is even something of an undercurrent at work which makes some sense of the film’s use of the pace that (perhaps) serves the purpose at the moment, and it is one that is both thematic, and possibly even a meta-statement. The older crew looks down on the younger players with a certain disdain, and offers the idea that maybe there should be a little more getting the job done, and a little less sticking out of one’s chest (or blowing everything up just for the sake of adding to the explosion count).
If you’re main concern is finding something with “High-Octane!” on the poster, RED probably won’t work out for you, but you’ll be missing a lot of fun, and an interesting look at some fine actors. It doesn’t have quite the spark or crispness to move it to the next level, but it shouldn’t be missed either.
It does, however, stand out as an interesting rung in Director Robert Schwentke‘s career ladder, and is as worth seeing for that fact alone as any other. His action scenes are slick, even incorporating some of the graphic novel oddity that is here more distancing than anything else, and his ability to adapt himself to his work is impressive.
Had the clever and style-fueled Tattoo, or the wonderful The Family Jewels been made here, he might have been able to leapfrog Flightplan, and you would be more familiar with his name by now. As it stands, The Time Traveler’s Wife was solidly directed (whatever else might be said about it), as was the Lie to Me pilot, and anyone who can work himself into such a diverse selection of material is worth keeping your eye on. His next project, R.I.P.D., is going to surprise a lot of people. Mark my words.