Saturday, January 29, 2011

Red: Grade A


RED (2010)

Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Karl Urban, Richard Dreyfus; Director Robert Schwentke.

This lightweight, action-comedy is an homage to genre and some well-loved movie stars, more than a well-told story. The story is that the VP of the U.S. is using a CIA hit squad (you know the type: black ski masks, machine guns) to eliminate the now-retired members of a CIA operation that in the 1980’s saw the VP massacre a village of civilians in Guatemala. Naturally, the retired folks don’t care for the current operation and set out to discover who is trying to kill them and to stop it. The story is too silly to count as a real political thriller, so it must be taken as a comedy, maybe Space Cowboys meets Ocean’s Eleven.

Willis still looks good and still has great comic timing. The stunt doubles do the hard fighting for him, but he retains his indestructible image. However, he doesn’t look that good, and Parker is far too young to be his romantic interest. The difference of thirty or forty years is off-putting and unnecessary. I’m sure there were dozens of age-appropriate women who would have agreed to work across Willis. Parker does a fine job acting her part, but the relationship is dead as a dishrag from the beginning.

The retired team effortlessly zips around the US to investigate and confront. Willis and Parker drive from Kansas City to New Orleans, then to New York, back to Florida and then to Washington, all in the blink of an eye. No time passes while they travel and they show no sign of fatigue from those trips. The emphasis is on the locations, not on the characters and their journeys. All the characters are caricatures anyway, so there is no point trying to explain who they are or what they feel. The movie works because of its witty script, good acting, and familiar faces. Who would not enjoy Helen Mirren in a white evening gown shooting a 50 caliber machine gun? Malkovich does his demented weird guy thing to hilarious effect. The actors obviously have a good time in this movie but they play it straight, not hammy (except for Dreyfus, who cannot help himself), so there are none of the sly cultural and cinematic self-references you would get in a tongue-in-cheek approach.

The movie is a lot of fun, with good directing, good cinematography, tight editing. And though it is silly Hollywood fluff, in the end it is emotionally satisfying as well.

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