RED - Retired & Extremely Dangerous

UK DVD release date: 14th Feb ‘11
Certificate: 12
Running time: 111 minutes
Director: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren
Genre: Action
UK distributor: Entertainment One
Format : DVD, Blu Ray

Comic book adaptations usually have an entire legend from which to pluck.  Years and hundreds of different writers and illustrators that allows the film makers to borrow and adapt in order to make their film and yet stay faithful to the source.  For those who read Red by Warren Ellis it would have come as a pleasant surprise that this three issue story has made it on to the big screen, but is Red more OAP than VIP?

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is seeing out his days in suburban Cleveland having retired from "wet work" with the Central Intelligence Agency.  Not he spends him time calling the pensions hotline in order to engage Sarah (Mary Louise Parker) in conversation furthering the only relationship Moses has been ever able to sustain.  That is until a black ops team turn up at his door with the task of eliminating him.  Quickly dispatching of the youngsters Frank sets out to rescue Sarah before she comes to any harm and get to the bottom of who wants him dead.

Leading the hunt for Frank, Sarah and more is William Cooper, played by Karl Urban (The Bourne Supremacy) an ambitious young high flyer at the CIA who’s got a job and will carry it out.  The film begins extremely promisingly, Schwentke is more than happy to play it for the small moments and happy little laughs.  The sight of Bruce Willis reading trashy romance novels recommended by his telephone sweetheart is matched moments later by him killed four members of an elite black ops unit without even ruffling his pjs.  Similarly when he reaches Sarah’s house the fact that he’s vaccumed because it was a little messy hints to the world in which Frank resides, one of putting in the hours to see the day in.  Willis is very good in these kind of films, having spent decades at the top of the action genre his masculine persona is never in question which frees him up to play a little softer at times, for laughs, forever safe in the knowledge that he could kill you as quick as play checkers with you.  It’s a slower pace for Bruce, one with hints of complexity in the character.  Several early moments during the budding relationship between Frank and Sarah had echoes of the unhinged pairing of him and Madeline Stowe in Twelve Monkeys which is credit to the acting, or more to it, reacting of Mary Louise Parker.  Parker, at least in the early moments of the film, manages to create unease in the viewer that Frank might actually be kidnapping her, which is no mean feet considering the audience has been privy to the goings on in Cleveland.

The supporting cast, Freeman, Malkovich and Mirren are all given equal billing but make no mistake this is very much Willis’ story, all perform somewhere between well and wonderful.  Which is something of an annoyance given the calibre of the casting.  Freeman is under used and largely two dimensional only given moments in order to attempt to express a lifetime as we want to see what makes the man retired and extremely dangerous.  Frustratingly, he’s never really given his moment unlike Malkovich, who is brilliant and brilliantly psychotic.  Malkovich (as Marvin) is excellent, it’s clear to all viewing that his character is the most interesting and more enjoyable and he relishes every moment of the cuddly yet completely insane, most likely undiagnosed PTSD, Boggs who though retired still has that killer instinct if not social skills.  Mirren (Victoria) does what’s required of her, again many small moments are played out rather well with thanks to her.  The first encounter at her home sees almost a royal dining location paired with a automatic weapon and the sight of The Queen brandishing it is enough to crack a smile on the hardest of faces but frustratingly falls short of being a performance of her standard.  Like the headliners, the rest of the cast are solid.  Urban like many G-Men pursuers before him holds his on own screen with his prey, including an excellent fight sequence in Langley between him and Willis that was a little bit Bourne peppered with the physicality of John McLean (Die Hard) and always played with a bit of wit and joy.  Likewise Richard Dreyfuss gives his best evil Dick Chaney impression which is always excellent and Brian Cox pulls a cold war Russian spook out of somewhere to play to sterotype which is greatly appreciated as the film is built on broad strokes.

Much to young to feel this damn old
Red is not without it’s problems, though the direction is strong.  There are several truly wonderful sequences and moments of stylisation that are a joy to behold but the film suffers from the one thing it did really enjoyably from the get go.  At the beginning of the film Red played on the small moments of retired life and though the sound effects get louder the pace never seems to quicken from the octagenarian lifestyle of Joe Matheson (Freeman), happy to plod along relying on the charisma of the blinding star power.  That coupled with a rather run of the mill storyline that never threatens to deviate from it’s pre-set path and you have problems.  Such is the road trodden that you could comfortably begin watching at any point of the film and not feel that you’ve missed out on anything largely crucial.  The biggest problem with Red is shockingly Bruce Willis.  Red should work because it’s a group of retired assassins fighting for their lives, it brought to mind Space Cowboys with Donald Sutherland, James Garner and co. over the hill and up in space doing what they were once good at.  Willis is simply not old enough for the role, it’s been no time at all since Die Hard 4.0 in which he was still very much a functioning detective and placed alongside the others looks something of the odd one out and though really enjoyable is safe in the role as it's a role, like the narrative, is well trodden to him.

Fans of the comic book should like it, there’s a lot there to like about Red as it’s an easy watch with some enjoyable action set pieces and John Malkovich is worth the price of the DVD alone.  Saying that, once viewed you’ll probably leave Red off at the DVD retirement home and forget to come visit for a while.


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