Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Julian McMahon, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox, Karl Urban, James Remar, Rebecca Pidgeon
Written by: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, based on a graphic novel by Warren Ellis, Cully Hamner
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language
Running Time: 111
Date: 10/15/2010

Red (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Quick and Retired

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In an industry, and in fact a country, that only appreciates youth, it's nice to see a movie about "old" people. Thankfully Robert Schwentke's Red gives us that, but without the requisite cutesy factor, as if to ask, "isn't it remarkable how these old folks can do things just like young people?" Here we have Bruce Willis (age 55), John Malkovich (age 56), Helen Mirren (age 65), and Morgan Freeman (age 73), plus the 46 year-old Spring chicken Mary-Louise Parker, ripping it up and having a great time, and it feels right. There's some discussion of (and jokes about) age from time to time, but the overall feeling is, why not?

Willis stars as a retired CIA man, Frank Moses. The high point of his day is when his pension check comes so that he can rip it up and call Sarah (Parker) to "complain." She promises to send him a new check, and they chat about this and that. Unfortunately, Frank has been targeted for death for some unknown reason, and that means Sarah is in trouble too. (We learn that "red" is an anagram for "retired, extremely dangerous.") Frank arrives and scoops her up, much to her annoyance. Eventually, he also recruits his old colleagues Joe (Freeman), Marvin (Malkovich), Victoria (Mirren) and Russian agent Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox, age 64) for help. Happily, the 93-year-old legend Ernest Borgnine is here, too; he's a veteran of tons of great tough-guy movies (The Wild Bunch, for example), and he's still remarkably vibrant.

The origin of the trouble has something to do with Guatemala, the Vice President of the United States and a crooked businessman (Richard Dreyfuss, age 62). There's also a young CIA hitman, Cooper (Karl Urban), who is in charge of getting Frank, but keeps underestimating his "experience" factor. This plot requires our group to travel around a lot, which apparently takes no time or energy at all. Malkovich gets to act crazy and paranoid, and everyone gets to shoot big guns.

Up to now the German expatriate Schwentke (Flightplan, The Time Traveler's Wife) has not shown much promise, but here he sets the tone just right so that this stuff feels fresh. The cast genuinely seems to like each other, and they seem to want to be here. When these characters act tough or pull a weapon, it comes out of years of fluid practice, rather than a newfound rush of coolness. This is organic, earned cool, even if it's undeniably lightweight. Still, Schwentke is just a director-for-hire, looking for a particular style, and he sometimes goes for medium, middle-of-the-road shots when he's unsure of what else to try, and when something closer or more detached would have been appropriate.

But Red is his closest thing so far to a success. The movie has an appealing smoothness, and a nice blend of comedy and action to go with its wonderful chemistry. If he enjoyed making this film, he would do well to continue to develop this kind of genre. Maybe there's even a sequel calling his name.

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