DIR: Robert Schwentke • WRI: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber• PRO: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian • ED: Thom Noble • DOP: Florian Ballhaus • DES: Alec Hammond • CAST: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Jefferson Brown, Hellen Mirren, John Malkovich, Brian Cox
Bruce Willis made his cameo appearance in The Expendables with his trademark smirk plastered across his face. Having seen Red I now know exactly why he was smirking. ‘Yes Mr Stallone,’ he was no doubt thinking, ‘you go on ahead and make your self-indulgent picture about a bunch of old guys blowing stuff up because I’m going to take your idea and run with it. But I’m actually going to have actors in my film. In fact I’m going to have a dizzying array of top class performers, people like Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, and Brian Cox, with fun cameos from Richard Dreyfuss and Ernest Borgnine. I’ll also have jokes, real jokes – not just in-jokes for fan boys, and they’ll be good ones too. I’m even going to have better action scenes than you. In short my film, while bearing a superficial similarity to yours will actually have more to offer than just nostalgia.’
And Stallone won’t be the only one wondering what was going on behind his back. I pity poor Brad Pitt when Angelina Jolie discovers that all the work she put into creating a kick-ass yet glamorous spy in Salt has been topped by Helen Mirren by basically just being Helen Mirren. And Tom Cruise will be wondering how his movie Knight and Day, about an ordinary girl who gets involved in a spy adventure, has also been swallowed up and improved upon by Red. All these near misses and outright failures of a dismal summer for action movie fans have been brought together in one package that really is more than the sum of its parts because Red offers more moments pure enjoyment than all of these films put together.
Red is about ex-CIA agent Frank Moses (Willis) who, years after retirement, finds himself targeted by his former employers. So he starts recruiting his old buddies in the search for answers. Along for the ride is Mary-Louise Parker as the girl who handles his pension payments and with whom he has stuck up a tentative romance over the phone. Why exactly he brings her along isn’t satisfactorily explained but they’re so much fun together I didn’t care. The whole team has a delightful chemistry, everyone seems to be having a whale of a time. The image of Helen Mirren sitting in her home, decorated like something from Martha Stewart’s Christmas, in a blood-stained apron is a hilarious one. Also good is Karl Urban as the efficient killer the CIA send to catch Moses. The notion of a professional killer with a family life, like much in this film, has been done before, but it is justified here because it’s used for something more than a throwaway gag.
Red is based on a comic book by Warren Ellis, perhaps the most reliable writer of comics working at the moment. The original, however, is really more of a short story so much of what you see on screen has been added by writers Jon and Erich Hoeber. What they have come up with is almost witty and edgy enough to come from the pages of one of Ellis’ comics, or at least those of a talented imitator. Director Robert Schwentke is often too flashy for his own good, but the film is perfectly paced and manages to pull together a variety of elements and characters, giving each enough time develop without any being lost in the mix. Red is exactly the type of action romp we have been missing this year.