Red is a movie that’s better than it should be and yet isn’t as good as it could be. The jokes could be funnier, the action could be more exhilarating, the pacing could be quicker, but the film is still a success. And yet with stronger direction and a more polished script, Red could have been one of the better films of the year thanks to its strong cast. Not only do they play off each other well, but Mary Louise-Parker, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, and Helen Mirren all give terrific performances. Red gets the job done, but there’s frustration in seeing it come up as only passable.
Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired and restless CIA Agent who spends his days doing menial tasks and ripping up his pension checks just so he has an excuse to flirt with his representative, Sarah (Parker). One night, a special ops squad comes to murder the hell out of Frank. Unfortunately for them, it turns out he was in the best in the business, and they’re the ones who end up slightly deader for the experience. Frank then goes on the run to find out who’s after him, but first picks up/kidnaps Sarah since he believes they’ll try to kill her as well due to her connection to him. The pair makes their way across the country and meets up with Frank’s former colleagues, who are also struggling with retirement. Joe (Morgan Freeman) ogles the young women in the nursing home, Victoria (Mirren) is still taking contracts on the side, and Marvin (Malkovich) has become highly-paranoid and lives in a bunker (although that has more to do with the daily doses of LSD for 26 years than the retirement).
Unfortunately, it takes a little too long for the plot to get everyone together. Red is a road movie where each stop introduces us to a character and then we have a plot point and/or action scene, but the momentum rarely carries from scene-to-scene. Part of that is due to Robert Schwentke’s lethargic direction. His action scenes are competent, but there’s rarely any moments that make you “Wow”. He also doesn’t have much in the way of comic timing, which rests the burden of the humor on the script and the actors. Jon and Erich Hoeber’s script is well-constructed and has its moments, but doesn’t have any big laughs.
The movie excels because of its cast. It’s amazing that after 25 years, Bruce Willis can still win an audience with just a flash of his trademark impish grin. Malkovich has the most colorful character of the bunch and he doesn’t disappoint. However, he also doesn’t chew the scenery or try to hog the spotlight and I applaud his restraint. The actor who almost ends up almost stealing the film is Parker and she does it with a nothing role. On paper, Sarah is a love-interest/audience surrogate and not much else. Parker’s comic abilities make the character come alive as she nails every joke and kills with priceless facial expressions. While I wish Mirren and Cox (who plays a Russian former enemy of Frank’s) had more screen time, they’re wonderful whenever they’re on screen. The only actor who comes up short is Freeman, whose character never gets to be more than a plot device.
Red is a film that lights the fuse but never blows you away. A stronger director, a more polished script, and tighter editing would have made it into a great flick. As it stands, the reason to see Red is because of its cast. Watching these actors have fun makes Red fun. It’s a shame that the action and the humor isn’t up to their level.