RED


Year 2010

Bruce Willis as  Frank Moses
Mary-Louise Parker as Sarah Ross
Karl Urban as William Cooper
Morgan Freeman as Joe Matheson
Ernest Borgnine as Henry, The Records Keeper  
John Malkovich as Marvin Boggs
Brian Cox as Ivan Simonov
Helen Mirren as Victoria
Richard Dreyfuss as Alexander Dunning
 
Director - Robert Schwentke
Screenwriters - Jon Hoeber
  - Erich Hoeber
Comic Book Writers   - Warren Ellis
  - Cully Hamner
Original Music - Christophe Beck

RED is one fun action comedy. It's near perfect pacing makes sure you're never bored no matter how many times you see it. I gave the DVD as a Christmas gift and told the recipient, "It's a guilty pleasure." There's nothing momentous, no layers of meaning, no grand revelation. But I like it a lot.

Retired extremely dangerous (i.e. RED) special agent Frank Moses (Willis) wakes one morning to thwart an attempt to assassinate him. Most of the movie follows Frank as he tries to find out why someone wants him dead. No matter where Frank goes, people die and things usually blow up. Along the way, he picks up an entourage of other retired agents.

Normally, I'm not a fan of movies that come from comic books. I guess the comic book version of RED is a lot more serious than the movie. Maybe it's deeper, too. I don't know because I haven't read the series. All I know is that this movie is not usually serious.

Back to the movie and Frank, who is of course the most lethal agent that ever worked for the CIA. And also, if you're familiar with familiar plots, you know that the same agency that Frank worked for is the one that now wants him dead, you know, to silence him over something he never planned on divulging in the first place. If this movie took itself seriously, then the above points would sink it. But since it doesn't, it asks you to laugh along with it.

The movie/director/screenwriters don't ask you to treat the experience as Shakepeare's second coming. Instead, they ask you to come along for the ride. They promise, "There's something for everyone. Besides, it'll be fun."

A nice touch is the point-counter-point between the aging Frank and, the younger version of himself that's out to get him, Cooper. You know what they say, "Age and treachery will always overcome youth and enthusiam." Frank does it with style and Bruce Willis pulls it off.

In fact, all of the acting is first rate. And even though you wouldn't expect any less from the stellar cast, a lot of credit has to go the director. Every actor shines in every scene. They all ham it up and enjoy themselves, but no one upstages anyone.

I have to mention Brian Cox in particular. He is convincing as the sympathetic Russian agent. His accent is spot on, his sense of Russian fatalist pragmatism is evident, and his timing is impeccable. There's one scene where he yells out, "Gas!" Just the one word sums up how attentive Cox is to details. Brian Cox was born in Scotland, so I'm assuming he has a Scotch accent. But, when he says that one word, he's a Scotsman trying to sound like a Russian who's trying to sound American. I've never heard the word pronounced the way Cox pronounces it. For all I know, this is how it would sound if a Russian tried to sound American. (If you haven't figured it out, I'm a fan of Brian Cox and have been since he played the only convincing Hannibal Lector in Manhunter.)

Another nice thing about the movie is that every important character, and there are lots, is an individual. Frank Moses is Frank Moses and cannot be confused with anyone else in the movie. Marvin Boggs is Marvin Boggs.

Marvin Boggs is a paranoid recluse. Sarah Ross is an adventure seeking romance novel devourer. William Cooper is a clean-cut family man who just does the job. Henry, The Records Keeper, is the ghost in the machine of the CIA. Victoria is the British ex-assassin who is the cold blooded charmer. Alexander Dunning is the corporate CEO who is jaded and cynical. Joe Matheson is a bored old timer who longs for the old days.

Actually, they all sort of long for the old days. This movie attempts to show that even though time has kept marching on, there are certain types of people for whom any point in time means nothing. For these people, their skills transcend time. I mentioned age and treachery earlier. The old timers are nearly always two steps ahead of the enthusiastic youths.

Besides the score, which is semi-retro techno jazz, and the locales, there are the little touches that make this movie a cut above. Whevener visiting a new locale, there's a quick cut to postcard that states, "Greetings from <newest location>." It's adds to feeling that everyone gave it their best when making the movie.

The best part is the dialog, though. But before I pick out some choice nuggets, let me hit the downsides to the movie not related to secret agent clichés. Oh, there's nothing to ruin the movie, but there are some things that definitely detract.

For example, there's the scene between Joe Matheson and his assassin. The assassin gets the drop on Joe but gives away his element of surprise by taking the time to announce himself. This guy gets what he deserves. But wasn't he supposed to be a professional?

Then there's the CD that repeats. There are things that do get stuck in a groove, like a phonograph record, but this was a CD. A CD with a flaw would jump ahead, not repeat itself. I've never heard a CD repeat itself. That's an LP that does this. Are the writers living in the 1980s?

In another scene, Agent Cooper is given fifteen minutes to get from downtown Chicago to the Evanston power plant. It's only about thirteen miles away (I just Googled it), but have you ever driven from Chicago to Evanston? I don't care who you are, there's no way that you're going to get out of Magnificent Mile Chicago and make it anywhere near Evanston in fifteen minutes. Google just told me that at even 4 A.M., it still takes 30 minutes to go from the downtown Marriot to the power plant.

There are other scenes like Simonov showing up in the nick of time to rescue them. (What? No escape plan from our heroes?) But since this is a live action cartoon, no harm and no foul.

Oh, well, onto the dialog


Marvin Boggs: I remember the Secret Service being tougher.
Victoria: Me too.

Marvin Boggs: Frank, I never thought I'd say this again. I'm getting the pig!

Earlier in the movie, Marvin wanted to kill a female in a business suit. He suspected her of being a CIA agent. Frank talked him out of it. They meet again.
Business Suit: That's right, old man.
Marvin: Old man?
Frank: No respect.
Marvin: Can I kill her now?

Frank: I was just hoping you'd be a little more understanding of the situation.
Sarah: I was hoping not to get kidnapped. Or drugged. I was hoping you'd have hair.

Sarah: This isn't the best first date I've been on. <pause, then quietly> It's not the worst, either.

Frank and Sarah discuss the "eccentric" Marvin.
Frank:: Well, he thought he was the subject of a secret government mind control project. As it turns out, he really was being given daily doses of LSD for 11 years.
Sarah: Well in that case, he looks great. Yeah.

Frank: It's not that bad. People get shot all the time.
Sarah: No, they don't. They get paper cuts.
Marvin: I mostly get shot.

Victoria: In all the years I've known Francis, I've never seen him like this. So if you break his heart, I will kill you and bury your body in the woods.
Sarah: Wow. Okay.

Frank describing Cooper: About six one, cute hair.
Henry: Oh, it was cute.

Cooper just tried the pity pitch on Sarah to get her to help.
Sarah, obviously impressed by Cooper: You're asking me for help? Wow. That's...so lame. Frank's going to eat you for lunch.

The last is my favorite. Mary-Louise Parker's character sits and thinks about what Cooper told her. When she says, "Wow" you're not sure if she's going to align with her abductor (Frank) or turn to the CIA for help. Oh I guess you are maybe 90% sure. Then when she draws it out and delivers the zinger, it's just so satisfying.

Side note: What's up with all of the cannibalism metaphors? If you Google "eat you for lunch" even Occupy Wall Street wants to eat you for lunch. Never dinner, mind you, just lunch. When Hannibal Lector ate someone's liver with "some fava beans and a nice chianti" he didn't specify which meal. Right now, I'm thinking that it was lunch. I remember the days when people would just eat someone else's lunch, as in, "They're going to eat our lunch." Now, as a result of ludicrous one-upmanship, it's no longer good enough merely to pilfer someone else's repast; that someone else has to beome the meal! What next? "I'm going to eat you, your family, and their ancestors for lunch?" Or better yet, threaten to chow them down just before bedtime as a midnight snack. Or maybe first thing in the morning while everyone's still bleary eyed. Do the gourmands cook these morsels first? Eat them raw like tartar? What seasoning do they use? I've digressed long enough.

RED is not deep. The plot isn't original. There are some cringworthy moments. But it's smart, stylish, and full of laugh out loud moments. And there are more than enough "cool" moments to offset the dumb ones. The fistfight between Cooper and Frank, well done with good lines as it is, is made even better with Aerosmith blastng out "Back in the Saddle". Another case in point is a quickdraw contest between Marvin with a revolver versus Business Suit with an RPG. Marvin's victory line? "Old man, my a**."

Some blasphemy, no nudity, and a couple of love stories so maybe there's some chick flick potential.


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