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Rapid Review: Red

October 16, 2010

INTERIOR- Producer’s Meeting:

Producer: So, now that John Malkovich has gotten even creepier looking than he was in the late 90s, what can we put him in that won’t scare small children and the 18-25 demographic?

Screenwriter:  Well, I’ve got this comic book we should option about retired black ops agents.  Maybe we could give him some over-the-top weapons and a funny back story and let him run wild?

Producer: Brilliant!  I think Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman are looking for some work, and that Dame Helen Mirren chick is still pretty foxy – any way this is an ensemble film for the over-50 crowd?

Screenwriter:  I can see the dollar signs already….

Okay, so maybe that’s not how Red came into being, but I’m envisioning it in my head that way for smirk value. 

In actuality, Red (not to be confused with the 80s biopic Reds by Warren Beatty, as if that were even remotely possible) is about Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), who is a former black ops guy now trying to make the best of his retirement.  After reading this sentence (if you are me), two important questions and comments come to the forefront:

1.) Why do “black ops” and all other former government agents who have handled sensitive cases NEVER realize that their profession not only has a shelf life shorter than the career of a Chinese gymnast, but ALSO that the same government that nutured them during their career may want to END their lives if they “know too much”?  How smart are these super spies, anyway?  At least Jason Bourne had amnesia and is therefore excused by his parents from not being “schooled” today…

2.)Why are all movie spies/operatives/agents always gorgeous, lanky (or hunky),eye-popping spectacles of humanity?  Wouldn’t that make them less appealing/effective as spies who are supposed to be covert and blend in with the general populace?

But, once again, I digress…

Mirren and Malkovich get SERIOUS...

Frank Moses (ahem…”leader of his people” through “hard times”…cough…subtle character name)  has become the target of mysterious assassins, and if that weren’t enough to motivate him, he also has a romantic, if inconveniently timed crush on a government pension employee(Mary Louise Parker), who gets embroiled in the chaos and must join Moses on his quest to bring down the bad guys. Parker’s character Sarah  (who, amusingly, is from my hometown of K.C. and dreams of traveling anywhere ELSE) provides the everywoman  that balances out all the “spy talk” and whiz-bang action.  In another actress’s hands this might have been a distraction, but she’s a wry and effective comedic actress and her reaction to the ludicrous behavior of those around her is one of the highlights of the film.

Eventually, Moses tracks down all of his former partners in government-sanctioned crime, a roll sheet that includes the likes of Helen Mirren as frosty but deadly Victoria (a former MI-6 operative), Morgan Freeman as “Kill You With a Freckled Grin” Joe, and John Malkovich as Marvin, whose nerdy name immediately pegs him as the off-kilter weapons/intelligence expert before you’ve even seen the film.

Karl Urban plays the straight-faced CIA up-and-comer trying to interfere with the gang’s plans, and a frosty Rebecca Pidgeon is his immediate superior, but it is Brian Cox, as the former Russian agent whose connections to the crew go deeper than originally thought, who steals the show in the second half of the film.

small talk with the agents under fire....err... "book club"...

Red is based on a comic book  by Warren Ellis, with a screenplay by Jon and Erich Hoeber.  It is directed by Robert Schwentke, who I immediately had to look up on Wikipedia, which says something since I know who Tarsem Singh and Jean Cocteau are, and not many people can say the same.  Schewentke is also the director of Flightplan (okay, getting my hopes up) and The Time Traveler’s Wife (insert sound of air coming out of a balloon here…).

Up until this point I realize that this sounds like it is gearing towards a negative review…

 In fact, Red is a darn entertaining movie.  The screenwriters and director both know that their ace in the hole is the combined talent of their incredible ensemble cast, and they are not afraid to go for broke in terms of both action and comedic one-liners.   The story, rather than being forced and contrived, is witty and tongue-in-cheek, and there is more than enough shoot-em-up eye candy for even the most rabid movie watcher to enjoy.  The plot is harmless and virtually unimportant, and the director and screenwriters smartly play the story for winks rather than drama.

Red essentially fits the bill when it comes to a laid-back, no expectations of brilliance, crowd-pleasing  fall film.  It’s not an Oscar contender, but it is a nice way to spend an October afternoon.

Overall GradeB +

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