On paper RED seems too good to be true. The idea of classic actors of comedy, drama, and action like Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman teaming up for a film is like a movie version of an eclipse. The film follows Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA agent that lives a pretty boring life. In the first 10 minutes of the film we get to see the biggest extent of his “exciting life”, the highest point of his day being a toss up between putting a single snowman decoration in his yard for Christmas or flirting with the woman (the delightful Mary Louise Parker) in charge of his retirement benefits. After a near death experience in one of the film’s most ridiculously enjoyable action set pieces, Moses is forced to go on the run for his own life and saving the lives of his former teammates (Mirren, Freeman, and Malkovich) and his new love interest for knowing too many of the CIA’s secrets. Much like how The Expendables assembled some of the best action stars of all time, RED is like a miniature version of that film, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My dorky heart was touched getting to see Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren face off between Mickey Rourke monologues, but RED was a lot more subtle about having god and John McClane in the same room. There’s a lot to talk about concerning the cast, especially considering the once-in-a-lifetime nature of it all. Bruce Willis is classical Bruce Willis in the movie, phoning it in at times, but throughout the whole film he’s constantly reminding us how he’s one of the many kings of the action genre, with everything short of a “yippee ki-yay” in the film. John Malkovich almost effortlessly pulls off some of the movie’s funniest moments as the drugged-out, paranoid, retired agent. Helen Mirren shows up in the latter half of the film, and it’s just as satisfying as you’d think watching a 60 year old women operate a Gatling gun. Morgan Freeman, being Morgan Freeman, adds some well-needed class to a lot of the movie, and even though he’s not in the film as much as the trailers suggest (he’s in the film maybe 20-30 minutes), he’s definitely my favorite character of the movie. Think “The Bucket List” meets “Wanted”, sort of. Karl Urban, who I was a huge fan of from 2009’s Star Trek reboot as Bones, plays the “bad guy” of sorts in RED as the guy in charge of tracking down Bruce Willis and his team, and I hope to see him get plenty more of his strong action presence and charisma if his performance in RED is any indication. On another note, the ever-loveable Ernest Borgnine pops up a time or two with a couple of the film’s funniest lines. Let’s just say Ernest Borgnine is the living definition of the spirit of RED. Finally, Mary Louise Parker (as Bruce Willis’ love interest), even though she isn’t the best actress in the mix, has some great moments thanks to her “bubbly” and “cute” performance, that if the court will allow it, I think is pretty delightful. Speaking of being delightful, the film definitely has a cartoonish style to both the way it tells it story and presents the action that connects it. There are some action scenes like the infamous bullet vs. rocket scene plastered over a lot of the trailers and television spots that exist as some of the best examples of the film’s over-the-top atmosphere in most of the action. Notice that I only said “most”. Some of the film’s high-octane moments of action may drop your jaw (like John Malkovich’s grenade batting or Bruce Willis’ police squad car near-miss), but others come off a little more mundane. None of the action scenes are poorly shot or performed (thanks be to the director and the multiple coordinators in the film), but it’s odd going from cartoony to something more by the book in comparison, like a Christopher Nolan film in terms of action. This is something that unfortunately finds its way into some of the other aspects of the movie like it’s pacing. A recurring theme of the film is the idea of travel, and because of that Bruce Willis and the gang are constantly moving from location to location. There’s a choppy and sometimes confusing nature to it, and because it’s going from place to place it can be a little disorienting. Often times it’s like riding a roller coaster. The plot of the movie concerns some deep-buried CIAsecrets and some undercover dirty work, and not all of it really sunk in for me. Maybe because I was sleepy, but for a film like RED centered on quick and fun action, it’s a bid odd to have such a deep story. Maybe it could have taken a note from The Expendables that have virtually no story. Don’t misunderstand me here, RED is not a bad film at all, it just came off as a confused film, confused about what it really wanted to be. RED succeeds in being one of the most satisfying films of the year, and from start to finish is a total thrill ride with a spectacular legend of a cast. There’s a part of me that wonders what RED could have been with more time spent on the movie, maybe on the writing, the pacing, or maybe just what the film wanted to be in transition from the darker comic book. Much like the earlier metaphor, RED is like a great roller coaster. You enjoy it all the way through, you recommend it to all your friends, you’ll stand in line for it a dozen times before throwing up, but maybe after a ride or two you wonder what it might have been like with a few tweaks.
4 out of 5