Willis and Co. See “Red” in Zany Action Romp
By Jacob Walters ’14, Contributing Writer
“Red” represents a prime example of the finest variety of B-action movies, most of which succumb to their own pretentious ambitions, pseudo-serious ramblings and mistaken attempts at sternness: It has the good sense to realize exactly where its faults lie, and exploits those faults for pure entertainment. Essentially, “Red” is amongst the goofiest action movies released in some time, but unlike so many other films of this variety, it has the good grace to be fully aware of its goofiness and to, for lack of a better term, go all the way with it. When combined with a phenomenal cast (how the hell did they acquire Helen Mirren’s talents for this project?), who, although not giving Oscar-caliber performances, represent a significant step up from what one would typically associate with a movie such as this, “Red” represents a suitably amusing escapist entertainment.

The plot of “Red” is entirely inessential to its success, but, as the pages turn, it resembles little more than a clichéd team action movie (this is the fourth film in this genre to acquire a wide release in Hollywood this year; luckily for “Red”, none of the other ones were graced with a cast quite like this). Adapted from a comic book, the movie stars Bruce Willis as Frank Moses, Morgan Freeman as Joe Matheson, John Malkovich as Marvin Boggs and Helen Mirren as Victoria, all retired black ops agents. While planning a trip to Kansas City to visit a romantic interest working at his pension office (whom he has spoken to through her work line but never seen in person), Frank realizes, due to an attack upon his house, that someone had ordered a hit on him. Being the ex-CIA agent that he is, he immediately deduces that his calls had been monitored, and this prompts him to expedite his trip, as well as his first face-to-face meeting with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker). Getting their relationship off to a rousing start, he naturally makes the entirely logical decision of taking her hostage (playfully, of course). After this, he tracks down several members of his old team in an attempt to discover exactly why someone is attempting to kill them off, and, of course, to partake in a bit of reminiscing on the side. As per the course, the villain’s identity is rarely certain, surprises (are they really surprises if you expect them?) are in store and, perhaps most importantly for younger viewers, things blow up “real good.”

Ultimately though, the plot of “Red” is nothing more than a clothesline with which the movie hangs its penchant for nonsense on its shoulder. The film barrels through its exposition, sacrificing any semblance of coherence for witty one-liners, bombastic action scenes and more John Malkovich than is legally allowed in Ohio. While the film certainly can be enjoyed, suspension of disbelief is a requirement. Luckily for the movie, and the audience, it’s surprisingly easy to suspend disbelief when you witness John Malkovich use a grenade launcher to smack a grenade back at its thrower, immediately after witnessing a grenade from said grenade launcher rip a person in half, and immediately prior to observing a Mexican standoff in which one party is holding a magnum (big enough to make Dirty Harry blush) and the other is holding rocket launcher. Yes, I did say rocket launcher, and yes, I did say John Malkovich. You can obviously see the subtlety with which “Red” handles the relationship between the protagonists and those that fire weapons at the protagonists.

In the acting department, the quality of the cast speaks for itself. While these aren’t likely to be deemed powerhouse performances, the overall quality of the acting remains solid throughout. For Willis, this isn’t exactly challenging material; he could probably play Frank Moses in his sleep, although the role in this case does call for a bit more romance than many of his other roles. Freeman, having wet his feet with the wackiness of “Wanted,” a movie that similarly acknowledges the value in self-conscious nonsense, isn’t quite as used to this type of role, but he acquits himself amiably. The biggest downside of the film, however, rests in the film’s portrayal of this character, but the fault isn’t Freeman’s. Simply put, “Red” doesn’t mine the character of his potential and virtually writes him out of the film a little after halfway through. Mirren represents the most intriguing casting decision (It’s not hard to figure out exactly why this is), and another successful one. In fact, watching Mirren let loose and enjoy herself is amongst the greatest pleasures that the film offers. Karl Urban (someone in the cast has to fit the descriptors of hip and new), Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss and even Ernest Borgnine, in a cameo role, are on hand as well to add some spice to the proceedings. However, the standout is undoubtedly John Malkovich, playing who else but John Malkovich… on acid…and speed. Marvin Boggs, the paranoid, delusional ex-CIA operative essayed by Malkovich, is a positively riotous character, and the obviously ecstatic Malkovich virtually steals every scene he is in, which, thankfully, represents a significant portion of the film.

So then, would I be lying if I told you that the movie is worth the price of admission alone for a shot of Morgan Freeman stepping out of a car dressed as if he just arrived from a Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band convention, cosplay in full effect? Well, no, but even if that isn’t your cup of tea, “Red” peppers itself with enough such quirkiness to maintain a solid level of enjoyment throughout. It’s the type of film which requires only one caveat to enjoy: an appreciation for nonsense. Once this hurdle is cleared, the film represents a pleasant diversion, elevated by its cast and a number of ridiculous moments, most of which are at the hands of John Malkovich. Is it a great movie? No. Is it a good one? That depends on your definition of good, but one thing that it most definitely is: fun. This is popcorn entertainment, a genre of film I am typically adverse to because I actually prefer my popcorn entertainment to be fun, which I can get behind. It’s short, sweet and to the highly-silly point, and there is more wit and style in evidence in single scenes of “Red” than many other supposedly fun movies can create throughout their entirety. “Red” realizes that the key to an enjoyably silly ride is creating characters who are fun to watch, and, although these characters, excepting Malkovich’s, aren’t necessarily hugely memorable, they are amusing enough that, when combined with the quality of the acting driving them, they represent a team worth spending $7 on and two hours with.

Issue 06, Submitted 2010-10-20 01:15:56