Amiable action comedy proves old people can still kick ass
Directed by Robert Schwentke
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman
Lethal Weapon may not have been the first film to coin the phrase, “I’m too old for this shit!” But since then, every film wishing to jokingly acknowledge the fact that its action star is a day or two past his prime has tipped a hat in the direction of Danny Glover and company. The phrase—for better or worse—has become a pop cultural trope. Now comes Red, which may very well be the ne plus ultra in “I’m getting too old for this shit!” action cinema.
Bruce Willis, looking a fair bit older than his 1988 Die Hard heyday, headlines the film. Oddly enough, this is Willis’ second obscure comic book adaptation in a year, following 2009’s Surrogates. This newest one greatly expands on a three-issue DC Comics mini-series by British bad boy Warren Ellis. Ellis’ hero Paul Moses is now Frank Moses, a retired CIA black-ops agent who seems unwilling to go into that good night. No longer jetting around the world, killing people and generally making things safe for democracy, Frank (Willis, of course) putters around his house in suburban Cincinnati and tries to blend in with the neighbors. It’s not going well. So it’s both a blessing and a curse when a team of high-tech hit men shows up at his house and turns it into a pile of wooden Swiss cheese.
Frank, being the ultimate bad ass that he is, survives and goes looking for the people responsible. Stumped for a place to start, Frank heads to Kansas City to meet up with a government worker named Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) with whom he has been flirting. Sarah is the one who sends out Frank’s retirement checks, and he occasionally tears them up just so he has an excuse to call her. Their relationship hasn’t gone anywhere beyond casual phone chats, but Frank thinks a wire tap at his house might have led her into danger as well. Sure enough, the bad guys show up at Sarah’s house, and Frank is obliged to kidnap the disbelieving lady in order to save her life.
On the run from unknown and well-armed forces, Frank hunts down some equally retired members of his old special forces group. There’s easygoing intelligence man Joe (Morgan Freeman), paranoid survivalist Marvin (John Malkovich) and sexy assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren). Sure, they’re all a little long in the tooth these days, but their skills are more than intact.
As it turns out, somebody’s bumping off everyone connected to a top-secret CIA operation in Guatemala from way back in the ’80s. That includes Frank and all his old war buddies. If they want to survive retirement, they’re going to have to figure out who’s behind this belated killing spree.
Red is very similar in tone and style to The Losers, another DC Comics adaptation from earlier this summer. Unfortunately, The Losers didn’t do very well at the box office. Red has a number of advantages, though—not the least of which is its punchy cast. Now, it must be acknowledged that much of Red’s intrigue is in its “stunt casting.” Audiences can’t reasonably be expected to suspend their disbelief watching Dame Helen Mirren play a cold-blooded, machine-gun-toting hit woman. She’s never anything but Dame Helen Mirren. But that’s the film’s biggest joke. It’s a hoot watching Mirren whip out a sniper rifle and go to town. Which pretty much sums up Red’s appeal.
Director Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler’s Wife) isn’t a genius with action. He tends to gloss over a lot of the finer details, allowing our heroes to escape impossible situations off camera, because ... well, they’re the heroes. Still, he doesn’t scrimp on gunplay or fisticuffs, all of which are treated with a certain Looney Toons-style whimsy. Adding the character of Sarah, the mild-mannered, romance-novel-reader who gets caught up in a globe-trotting adventure, packs on a welcome, wish-fulfillment vibe straight out of Romancing the Stone.
Red isn’t summer blockbuster material. (We’re well past that this time of year.) But it is a fun mix of familiar genres. Action/comedy/romance films don’t come around all that often—which seems like a shame. What with the shooting, the kissing and the laughing, Red is perfect date movie material. Even if you’re getting too old for this shit.