Plot: Frank (Willis), Joe (Freeman), Marvin (Malkovich) and Victoria (Mirren) used to be the CIA's top agents but the secrets they know just made them the Agency's top targets. Now framed for assassination, they must use all of their collective cunning, experience and teamwork to stay one step ahead of their deadly pursuers and stay alive. To stop the operation, the team embarks on an impossible, cross-country mission to break into the top-secret CIA headquarters, where they will uncover one of the biggest conspiracies and cover-ups in government history.
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While Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) is burning up the theaters, we decided to go for something we could find in the cheap seats. When we discovered that Red, starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren was still playing, we knew we’d found our film.
While the cast seemed top-notch, would this spy adventure – looking to be played for laughs rather than tension – turn out worth our while? Or should we have just saved our pennies for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)?
While Willis will probably always be remembered first and foremost as John McClane in Die Hard (1988), the fall release Red shows while he may have less hair, he’s still got what it takes to be an action star. Like most of the other major players in the film, he’s got enough action films under his belt that playing the hero is probably as easy for him by this point as breathing – and he makes it seem just as easy. Barely breaking a sweat, he decimates hordes of bad guys – yet somehow manages to stay involved with his character, giving a wry grin when he notices he’s the only one on the block without Christmas decorations in his yard, for example. He could have easily phoned in the character, but he doesn’t, and the viewer keeps as vested an interest in his character as he obviously does.
The rest of the cast seems like a reunion of comfortably familiar faces, including Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Brian Cox – even Richard Dreyfuss and a surprisingly interesting performance from Mary-Louise Parker (whose known more for films like Fried Green Tomatoes than anything with action in it). And the newbies on the scene – notably Julian McMahon and Karl Urban – both easily fit into the familiar feel of the film. Julian actually is the most shortchanged, as his role is mere minutes of the film, but Karl easily keeps up with Willis and the rest.
Malkovich, ever the odd character, plays a paranoid ex-spy with aplomb. Helen Mirren, who usually sticks to dramatic pieces, nearly steals the film as a female ex-sniper. While she may be known more for her dramatic pieces, her foray into Red (and previously, Inkheart (2009)) might make the viewer look forward to her next non-dramatic performance even more.
Since the storyline is based off of a graphic novel, the viewer knows there is going to be some kind of backbone holding the whole film together. With it’s interesting focus on aged, retired agents rather than the typical young up-and-comer, it tweaks a by-the-numbers story enough to make the viewer sit up and take notice. Sure, viewers have seen agency conspiracy time and time again, but how many times has it been by heroes who can be called “Grampa”? Suddenly, there’s a whole new interesting angle to the story, and the viewer will want to see it through to the end.
That doesn’t mean the action is lacking. While these heroes may be older, they still have what it takes to duke it out with the youngsters. The Karl Urban / Bruce Willis office brawl shows Willis, at least, can still keep up with whatever the younger generation dishes out. Freeman and Mirren, being a bit older, spend a lot of their time using guns rather than fists to duke it out with their opponents, so any frailty age has presented is well-hidden (an idea that works so well in this movie viewers may wish Harrison Ford had thought of trying that before showing his age in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)). Malkovich, who actually isn’t much older than Willis, looks quite a bit older, and spends most of his time fighting with guns too. Of course, he’s usually been more of the skinny, hands-off type of guy, so that really isn’t a big change for him.
Despite their “retired” status in the film, these action heroes show they still know some pretty good moves, both with weapons and with their minds. The film mixes some interesting new takes on action sequences with a contrived multiple-stage kidnapping plan. These “retirees” are as sharp as ever, and Red is all the better because of it.
Check it out when you get a chance. Red has a solid cast, a fun twist on an old storyline, and some surprising performances. Plus it shows once again that while these actors may have some long careers under their belts already, they aren’t ready to throw in the towel. And after seeing Red, it’s obvious they’ve all got a few more miles in them.