Monday, October 18, 2010

Seeing RED: Can Willis + Freeman + Malkovich + Mirren = Epic Fail?!?!

RED Review:

- Red is a movie that, at the least, should have been a fun action flick - a slick popcorn movie with lots of humor, excitement, and entertainment value. With so many big-name movie icons on the marquee, it's hard to fathom that Red could be anything less than pretty good. But the fact is, Red is a mess. It's boring, confusing, and hampered by a lifeless script and barely-there plot. The direction is limp and flat. And that all-star cast of A-list actors? When they're not sleepwalking through the film, they're simply rehashing parts they've played many times before and could, well, play in their sleep. I remember that, last year, there was a movie called The Men Who Stare At Goats that was, in a lot of ways, similar to this one. A great cast in a totally uninspired movie that tried for quirk but ended up with crap.

Red is particularly disappointing though, given that the premise does seem to have a lot of potential. The movie is, after all, based on a comic book by award-winning scribe Warren Ellis, known for his gritty, hard-hitting crime and sci-fi stories. I haven't read the comic, but knowing the work of Ellis, I can only imagine that he was cringing just a little while watching the big screen adaptation of his work. I mean, you couldn't ask for a better cast. At the same time though, it's rare to see a movie that is so uniquely emblematic of everything that Hollywood tends to do *wrong.* An overreliance on marquee actors, who are playing themselves moreso than they area ctual characters. Dialogue that tries for cute and quippy but ends up falling completely flat. Plotlines that exist only to drive traffic from one pointless action scene to another. And hey, at least the action must be good, right? Nope, the action in Red is completely generic and forgettable. Other than the brief novelty of seeing Hellen Mirren brandishing a machine gun, there's really nothing to see here.

RED essentially stands for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous." It's the story of a recently-retired spy, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), who is now being hunted down by the CIA - the very organization he used to work for. Seems Willis is on a list of former operatives who possess knowledge that is now considered harmful to certain men in positions of power, and who are now being targeted for assassination. For whatever reason, Willis is the young'un of the group, which also includes the likes of Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich. Hellen Mirren is along for the ride, as is Brian Cox as a Russian heavy who has past history with the group. Mary-Louise Parker is also in the mix as Willis' wide-eyed, in-over-her-head love interest. Karl Urban plays the CIA guy tasked with taking down the old-timers. Ernest Borgnine cameos as the CIA records' keeper, and Richard Dreyfuss puts in an amusing turn as a sleazy adversary.

Again, it's truly an all-star cast, and there are moments where the sheer charisma of the main players helps to elevate things. Malkovich in particular is so over-the-top crazy that he is singlehandedly responsible for most of the film's actual chuckle-worthy bits. But you get the sense that this is more Malkovich going off the rails than anything that was actually built into the movie. But really, just about every actor here is simply playing off their already-well-established on screen persona, in a manner that's just plain lazy. Morgan Freeman's elder statesman gets so little character development that, honestly, a pivotal dramatic moment revolving around him barely even registers. That to me is inexcusable -- if the major dramatic beats of your story make no impact whatsoever on the audience, then your movie has problems. And that's true for all the flimsy arcs in this one. You never care about the half-hearted romance between Willis and Parker. You never buy into any sort of real comraderie between Willis and his band of retirees. You'll never feel anything but detachment towards the plot and its various twists and turns. Mostly, you'll be fighting off boredom and an urge to retroactively rewrite the movie so as to make it something worth watching.

It's amazing to think just how substanceless Red really is. I mean, the movie is supposed to be about all these retired spies who can still kick some ass, right? Well, other than a select few "who you callin' 'Old Man'" quips, the whole central concept is barely even explored. In fact, Bruce and his gang are so unstoppable that you wonder why they ever retired. Plus, this is Bruce Willis we're talking about - is it really reasonable to belive that he's in any way some sort of useless retiree when 90% of his films involve him kicking unholy amounts of ass? But there's very rarely that feeling of "sweet, we're getting the old gang back together" that could have made this film fun. There's nothing that comes close to the "Dillon, you sonofabitch" moment in Predator (to be fair, nothing in any movie really comes close to that, but you get my drift).

But you know, I have a certain respect for movies that can succeed at being a classic, over-the-top, Hollywood action flick. This summer's Salt was a good example - kind of dumb, but a lot of fun - with slick action and twists that kept the momentum going. Red, on the other hand, is one of those movies that just seems to give the absolute minimal effort. There are small attempts at infusing the film with style (the animated postcards that introduce each new locale), but they just seem so arbitrary. You'd be hard pressed to say that the film really has a voice or vision of its own. And again, to have that come out of the work of Warren Ellis, who has one of the most unique and identifiable voices of any writer I know, well, it's sort of sad.

So yeah, RED is certainly one of the more epic fails I've personally seen in a while. People sometimes ask me why my reviews of movies tend to be so positive, and the answer is simple - I usually stay away from movies that look like they'll be complete clunkers. But Red seemed like a can't-miss crowd-pleaser. For it to fall so short of that is pretty disappointing.

My Grade: C-

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