What do you call a movie starring for elder actors who are not (aside from Bruce Willis) typically known for starring in action films? Lots of fun, that’s what!
RED introduces us to Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA agent who is actually quite lonely. He fixes this by ripping up his pension checks so that he has an excuse to call the pension office and talk to Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), who works in customer service. The two have never met, but a relationship forms between them, leading to Frank deciding to visit her city to meet her in person. However, circumstances change when a hit squad arrives at his house to kill him; he kills them all, finds Sarah, essentially kidnaps her, and goes on the run, along the way asking for help from old friends: Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), and Victoria Winters (Helen Mirren). Current CIA agent William Cooper (Karl Urban) is assigned the task of tracking Frank down, but he soon discovers that Frank may be old, but he still packs a punch – he’s Retired, Extremely Dangerous (RED).
The best part about this film is seeing the older actors stepping into the types of roles usually reserved for younger actors. When we’re first introduced to Joe (Freeman), he’s sitting in a retirement home, but it’s not too long before he shoots someone in the face. Likewise with Victoria (Mirren), who, when we first meet her, is wearing a plain white dress, looking every bit the part of the elder grandmotherly figure, but we soon learn that she is quite adept with automatic weapons. Both of these actors do well stepping into these atypical roles, with the twist on their typical character choices bringing much humor to the film. Malkovich plays the probably-more-than-slightly insane Marvin with a palpable eccentricity that you can see in the craziness of his eyes. Willis, who is the one actor actually known for his action roles, brings a level of touching emotion to the table that he would later bring to Looper (my review), emotion that seems genuine and surprisingly not out of place among the countless flying bullets…he pulls it off well. Older actors aside, it was nice to see Karl Urban outside of Star Trek; he plays his role with an admirable resolve, adequately expressing his character’s desire to get the job done and alongside the deep love he feels for his family. I also liked Mary-Louise Parker, an actress who I’m not familiar with, as she brought plenty of laughs to the film despite the fact that her character was mostly the damsel in distress.
One thing that I noticed while watching is that the action is actually pretty minimal when you compare it to other films in the same genre, but all of the choreography here is very deliberate and purposed, making it easy to follow without dumbing it down too much. In fact, the minimal action fit in well with the idea that the characters were a bit too old for too much physical strain, making the reliance on strategy and gunfire the obvious alternative. However, the scene transitions when moving great distances were a bit weird, though the obvious intention was to emulate moving panels of a comic book, since this film is based on one. Thankfully, there was not too much done to make the look of the film feel too much like a comic book, even if the camera was occasionally a bit too dynamic for my tastes. Honestly, I liked most of the camera work in this film, with there being no apparent reliance on shaky-cam to “develop” action scenes or anything like that.
While watching the movie, I felt quite a bit like Mary-Louise Parker’s character: reluctant to be dragged in, but eventually awed by how much I liked it. This film plays off like a better version of Stallone’s The Expendables, another action film starring older actors, but the appeal of RED over Stallone’s film is that we are watching older actors step out of their box into something new and fresh, bringing a new spin on things and creating plenty of humorous situations. This wasn’t a film I expected to like, but I did, and, regarding the sequel, I can only echo Mary-Louise Parker’s character’s final line: “Can we go?!”
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language