(by Dustin Putman
Most of its cast members are old enough to be AARP members, but that is close to the only novelty "Red" (an acronym for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous") has to offer within the action genre. The title itself has been used multiple times before—once for the 1994 final installment in Krzysztof Kieszlowski's "Three Colors" trilogy, and again for the 2008 Jack Ketchum adaptation—and the plot is basically a variation on the same one already told this year in "The Losers," "The A-Team," and "The Expendables." Overstuffed and overlong, "Red" starts off promisingly as an offbeat love story before turning derivative in a haze of gunfire, explosions and extraneous supporting characters. Odd though it may sound, the film would have been a lot better had the action, which is easily the least interesting part, been excised entirely. Article continues below
Recently retired CIA analyst Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is having trouble adapting to his new sedentary lifestyle in the suburbs of Cleveland. His internal alarm clock waking him up every morning at 6 a.m., Frank whiles away his days meandering around the house, putting up Christmas decorations to compete with his holiday-crazy neighbors, and calling Social Security rep Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) under the false guise that he hasn't received his monthly check in the mail just so he has someone to talk to. When he is suddenly attacked at home by a squad of assassins, he puts two and two together and figures that it must be connected to a Guatemala operation cover-up he was involved in years ago. First dropping by Kansas City to snatch up Sarah—her life is in danger now, too, due to tapped phone lines—Frank soon rounds together his old CIA gang to inform them trouble is afoot. Ailing Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), loose cannon Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), and tough cookie Victoria (Helen Mirren) are only so happy to return to kicking ass and taking names.
Directed by Robert Schwentke (2009's "The Time Traveler's Wife"), "Red" is based on a three-part DC Comics graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. There are no superheroes on hand, though one might suspect otherwise after watching Frank and his cohorts perform some fancy stuntwork with their high-powered weaponry. Before the pyrotechnics go down, the film opens as a closely observed character story about Frank's struggle to slow down and get a life after years of dedicating himself to his profession. Screenwriters Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber (2009's "Whiteout") bring a welcome sense of humor to these early scenes and also strike hot in the over-the-phone flirtations between Frank and Sarah. Had things continued to center on these two even after their lives come under fire, "Red" might have proved to be something special. Instead, their snappy interplay fades into the background as the rest of his CIA co-workers are introduced and then are given little of note to do. In fact, virtually all character shades are dulled as the forgettable, drawn-out climax—alternately too talky and too chaotic—pushes the running time toward the two-hour mark.
Of the performances, it is Mary-Louise Parker's (2008's "The Spiderwick Chronicles") that proves the unexpected highlight. Parker gives Sarah a bored yet acerbic detachment at the start—she's a woman who has made amends with her dull lot in life—and then opens her up as she sees that there might be more to life than what she had settled for. Bruce Willis (2010's "Cop Out") is only okay in the lead role of Frank Moses, as dryly sarcastic as his typical on-screen persona, but the one area he excels in is his chemistry with Parker. A movie focusing on their unorthodox little romance could have really cooked, but it's not to be as the rest of the film's needless elements are tossed into the pot. Pretty obviously in it for the paycheck are John Malkovich (2010's "Secretariat") as Marvin, still suffering from the after-effects of LSD he took decades earlier; Morgan Freeman (2009's "Invictus") as the stately, reliable Joe, and Helen Mirren (2010's "Love Ranch") as Victoria, still pining for the one that got away (Brian Cox). These three are written with a strict single dimension far below their usual standards. The less said about the rest of the cast, the better; any film that manages to make Richard Dreyfuss (2010's "Piranha"), Brian Cox (2009's "Trick 'r Treat") and the underrated Rebecca Pidgeon (2005's "Shopgirl") boring simply isn't doing its job.
Because glimmers of freshness at the onset were apparent, it is with great disappointment that "Red" so quickly falls back on conventional shoot-'em-up spy fodder. Director Robert Schwentke finds himself unable to retain momentum for the duration even as he doesn't know when to quit. Having lost all intrigue by the sub-standard third act, the picture becomes a sluggish chore that takes far too long to reach its dopey finish. The decision to have Mary-Louise Parker drop out of frame for an extended period of time doesn't help matters since she is the only one worth caring about. Deriving from a comic book or not, "Red" would have been wise to go through a major overhaul before it was shot, putting a refocus on whole people rather than half-formed ones and the bloodless, PG-13-level exploding body parts they inflict.