Review: Warren Ellis' RED is a Flawed, But Fiercely Funny Movie
by Jeremy Kirk
October 15, 2010
Helen Mirren ripping into a group of suit-clad Secret Service agents with a massive .50 cal machine gun, enjoying smirk deep set into her eyes. John Malkovich coddling a pink, stuffed pig that may or may not be concealing any number or type of weaponry. Bruce Willis breaking arms and taking names, literally. These are just a few of the things you will be privy to while enjoying RED, the new action comedy based on Warren Ellis' comic book series, that proves it doesn't matter how much you're making off Social Security as long as you carry a big gun and aren't afraid to use it.
Willis plays Frank Moses, retiree, who, at the beginning of the film, lives out his mundane life growing and avocado, putting up Christmas decorations, and tearing up those government checks so that he can speak to the lovely customer service rep in Kansas City. She's played by Mary-Louise Parker. All is going swimmingly boring for Frank until a hit squad invades his house, and a series of action set pieces are set in motion. You see, Frank isn't just another retiree from any boring company. He's a former CIA agent, the type brought in to do the messy work, and that hit squad is just the opportunity he needs to go back into the field, put together a team, and find out what the hell is going on. Oh yeah, and he gets to break necks and shoot people, as well.
Directed by Robert Schwentke from a script by Whiteout's Jon & Erich Hoeber based on the DC comic mini-series, RED is a somewhat lighthearted actioner that pulls out the entertainment from its story and characters from every turn. Even in the opening moments when we watch Willis shuffle through Frank's ordinary life, the jovial tension seems to be building, as if the character's past is always right there under the surface waiting to explode into reality. Once it does, the action is all out, left and right, squibs popping in a thousand directions, and bombs going off where they logically shouldn't be going off. It must be noted a particular hand-to-hand fight between Willis and the pursuing CIA agent played by Karl Urban is heavy, intense, and very well shot.
But it never matters that people are being shot, blown up, stabbed. Every piece of action is shot and structured in just a way that you can't take it too seriously. When a team of three tears Willis' home apart with a scurry of thousands upon thousands of bullets, or when Willis launches a grenade that take out just one man in absolute Wile E. Coyote fashion, you'll know precisely what I'm talking about. The film's roots are never lost in its tone even if Warren Ellis' dryness is forced to move aside for something much broader.
RED is a film that is just as funny as it is explosive, and each character Frank brings into his crusade along the way only adds their different brand of humor to the plate. Parker plays the outsider, the one look in on Frank's life as he shoots his way up the conspiracy ladder. She's our conduit into this world that we probably shouldn't understand, and this obvious plot device is forgivable, especially with what her character brings to the story in terms of relationship with Frank. Frank is a man who just wants love, and he's willing to do anything to find that love and the happiness that comes with it.
The other characters are not so "outside looking in", especially Malkovich as Marvin, a former agent who makes the word eccentric mean absolute nil. Marvin is a character who sees conspiracy at every turn, the type of person who thinks the satellites are watching us at all times. He's probably right, and his theories end up helping the team rather than hinder it. But the eccentric (that word really doesn't do the character justice enough) ways in which Marvin expresses his beliefs and wanton desire to hurt somebody really bad add so much to the comedy that ensues. That pink pig is such a small point in the film, but when Marvin is scolded for pulling a gun on a seemingly innocent woman, the image of him standing in an airport hanger, dejected and holding the stuff pig by the tail like a small child is absolutely priceless.
Helen Mirren comes in rather late, but she, too, brings her own character to the film. She wants to hurt people even more than Marvin does. Brian Cox as a former KGB agent is solid through and through. The only character that really gets short changed here is Morgan Freeman's Joe. He comes in early, but he does very little. Even when he's in the film, which isn't very long at all, especially compared to the other members of the team, he doesn't seem to add much of anything. This is a problem at the script level, and should have been reworked, particularly when someone of Freeman's caliber came on board to portray him.
For the most part, RED is a harmless action film, one that everyone involved in seems to be having a blast working on. The third act of the film goes in a direction that might not be viewed as so harmless, as the team sets their sights on one man in particular. The culminating fight scene, one that Willis is inexplicably absent from for 90% of it, never loses its blithesome tone, but the goal of it is something that has real world implications, not something that is easily passed over. That fight scene ensues, but it's not the end of the film. There's another scene after that that really amounts to very little besides wrapping everything up in a nice, tight bow. Another rework on that script might have helped tremendously.
There usually isn't much reason to talk about a film's score unless it brings a lot or takes away to or from the film, and, with RED, we have a score by Christophe Beck that is so literal and so ever-present that it can't help but be a distraction. Beck throws in light when the scene calls for light, intense when the scene is action-heavy, and quirky when Marvin is around. There are literal moments in the film where the music coming through the speakers overshadows any word or gun play that might be going on in the forefront.
Overall, though, RED is a fiercely funny and ridiculously explosive action movie. There are definite issues to be sure, some of them easily fixed, but the all-out fun being put on screen will more often than not allow you to forgive its errors. Everyone in the film, even Willis, leading the charge with his cold intensity, is at their brightest best, none of whom who seem to be bored to be their. If for nothing else, RED tells us we shouldn't ever mess with anyone in a retirement home. You never know what they might have done in the world before they got there.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10