Armed and still very dangerous
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, October 15, 2010
"Red" joins a long and mostly undistinguished line of recent movies whose upper-middle-aged stars play AARP members who refuse to go gently into genteel cinematic dotage. But unlike "Wild Hogs" or last summer's "The Expendables," this adaptation of the "Red" graphic novel series gets into a cool, sophisticated swing. The hip vibe and quirky characters seem less inspired by Sylvester Stallone than by Steven Soderbergh in his "Out of Sight" phase; the one-liners zing right along with the bullets in a playful pas de deux of mayhem, misdirection and mordant humor.
Bruce Willis plays Frank, a former black ops agent now living in quiet desperation in Cleveland and enjoying a long-distance phone flirtation with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the warm-voiced woman who mails his retirement check. When Frank is unexpectedly visited by a lethal "wet team," he realizes his life is in danger, and he seeks to reassemble his old cohort of covert assassins: Joe (Morgan Freeman), whom Frank busts out of a nursing home in New Orleans; Marvin (John Malkovich), who's living in flashback-induced paranoia somewhere in the Gulf Coast swamplands; and Victoria (Helen Mirren), who arranges roses and bakes tea cakes but longs to get back into the life of ordnance and kill shots.
Nothing is remotely credible or humanly possible in "Red," which takes Frank and Sarah (along for the ride first as an unwilling aide-de-camp, then as an eager newbie) on a mad tear through most of the United States east of the Mississippi. But director Robert Schwentke ("Flightplan") knows his way around taut action, and the script, by Jon and Erich Hoeber, keeps even the most preposterous moments afloat with breezy, unforced wit.
Willis and Parker, whose eyes burn like black cinders, work up a fine, fiery chemistry; Malkovich recalls his similarly unhinged human time bomb in "Burn After Reading" as a man haunted by the sins of the CIA's past; and Mirren, looking sensational as always, tucks into her role with winking relish. ("I kill people, dear," she confides sweetly to Sarah when they meet; later, during a stakeout with a high-powered rifle, they commiserate about guys as if they were getting a mani-pedi.)
Unlike the overheated gimmickry of so many graphic novel adaptations (see "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" or, better yet, don't), "Red" hews to clean lines and a low-key simmer, proving a welcome respite from more bombastic but far less pleasing examples of the genre. Like its stars, "Red" possesses the sleek confidence borne of experience and chops: It gets the job done with competence, efficiency and points for smooth, goofy style.
Contains intense sequences of action violence and brief strong profanity.