Wednesday, November 03, 2010

627 - Red (2010) review

I left “RED” with the sneaking suspicion that I’d been ripped off. Not by the benevolent local theater chain, but by the filmmakers, who withheld from us some rather interesting characters. Sure, those characters were on screen, but they had nothing good to say, and little to do other than your usual action picture work.

Look at the cast: Bruce Willis as the head spy. John Malkovich as the crazy one. Helen Mirren as the ice queen, Morgan Freeman as the black guy. They’re played by actors we love and have each spent decades engaged in secret, extremely dangerous work. These people should be the ones hope you get seated next to a dinner party.

Thing is, they’re not, at least not while the camera’s rolling. Their secrets and experiences and skill sets are hidden behind layers of banal, cliched spy movie gab. The dialogue ends up as a list for code words one has heard endlessly in this sort of films since childhood: black ops, Afghanistan, asset, blah blah. I’ll bet a CIA assassin could have some great stories to tell, but we’re not privy to them. They talk as if they’ve heard the lingo and are aping it as well as they can. One character even passively mentions that he has stage 4 cancer, though don’t worry, it’s that kind of cinematic cancer which refuses to inhibit a character from pretty much anything.

Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired spy who passes the time by flirting with the pension lady (Mary-Louise Parker) over the phone. Of course, if you show a retired spy in a movie in the first act, he had better have killed something by the third. Frank obliges us by killing roughly ten people by the end of the first. He then sets out on a road trip to get to the bottom of a mystery too weakly written for us to care about, picking up his old comrades and even the pension lady along the way. “Do you think she likes me?” Frank asks one of his buddies about his civilian love interest, causing us to ask “Do you think a hardened killing machine would ever ask that?”

Though story credit is given to a comic book by Warren Ellis, the film “adaptation” bears virtually no resemblance to its supposed source material. A few of the action pieces manage to rise above being mildly diverting and into watchable, though there’s a lot of muzak blaring during the shooting, like elevator tunes scored to sound just a bit more like it belongs in a spy movie. And the sequences have the habit of seeing thousands of rounds expended in exchange for a flesh wound. I suppose if terminal cancer can’t slow these characters down, why should a bullet through the shoulder? Moviemakers: please do the audience the courtesy of pretending that there’s a serious threat to the leads when guns are going off.

It’s a shame to witness these great actors at work with nothing to do. It might be fun to fire machine guns and dodge explosions, but I’m going to wager that few actors enter the profession so that they might one day shoot a pistol filled with blanks in front of a camera. Look at Morgan Freeman, one of our greatest living actors, stuck in this action movie so bereft of ideas that the only thing his character does for the group is pretend to be an African diplomat. And Richard Dreyfuss, who cameos as the evil mastermind behind the nonsense, whose once lustrous career has been reduced to cameo roles in claptrap like this and “Piranha 3D.” There was a bright spot, though: the great Ernest Borgnine puts in an appearance as a CIA record keeper. It’s nice to know that he has been forgotten by major filmmakers, though I wish they had remembered to do something with everybody else.

1.5 out of 5

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