Director Robert Schwentke’s adaptation of a DC Comics action/comedy graphic novel is nothing but a series of creaky narrative half-steps. The result, Red, leaves no cohesive story for an audience to invest in.
Bruce Willis is a lonely retired CIA op named Frank Moses who strikes up a fluffy phone romance with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) a young government clerk who Frank repeatedly calls to report his undelivered social security checks. An assassination attempt against Frank alerts him that he and his fellow retired CIA hit-men pals, Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren), are under attack by a black-ops kill squad as revenge for a falsified assassination attempt our old-school group supposedly committed many moons ago. Behind the kill order is CIA black widow Cynthia Wilkes (Rebecca Pidgeon) and her physically intimidating underling Will Cooper (Karl Urban). After kidnapping Sarah—for safety, of course—Frank takes her on a cross-country road trip to roust Joe from a nursing home and meet up with trigger-fingers Marvin and Victoria who also know a thing or two about automatic assault weapons. Malkovich’s Marvin is the loose screw of the group due to 11 years of daily LSD testing. Naturally, our team of elderly assassins need to break into CIA headquarters to extract top secret files that will exonerate them should they live that long.
There’s nothing distinctive or original about this puddle-jumping shoot ’em up. Even the razzle-dazzle is a snooze.
Red, we learn, stands for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous.” But if there’s supposed to be some pithy social commentary—funny or otherwise—about the ability of old people to kill people, the moment never arrives. Red falls into this year’s similarly small-minded action fare that includes Killers, The A-Team, The Losers and Takers. What these films share in common, beyond their interchangeable titles, is a general disrespect for their audience.
Where an engaging exploitation action movie such as Machete rattles across the screen with a knowing hum of its raw stylized form, Red steamrolls your senses into oblivion with a constant barrage of light-hearted violence. Perhaps it works if you’ve never seen big explosions on a big screen, or watched thousands of rounds of ammunition being fired at miraculously invisible human beings. If that’s the case then you might find some degree of spectacle satisfaction. However, in the grand scheme of cinema, screenwriters Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber have turned in an incompetent script that’s been bankrolled into a big-budget disaster.
It’s sad to see a talented cast of actors doing such an obvious paycheck job. You spend the movie trying to forgive the performers for allowing themselves to be so diminished by the flaky source material they cling to like a lifeboat. If there’s a winner in this cinematic travesty it’s Mary-Louise Parker whose handling of her quirky role provides the audience with a character who’s just as victimized as they are. Even viewed as a comic book or cartoon film, Red fails in its nonexistent use of thematic values or character arcs. Oddly, this is a movie that’s all climax and no impact.
Red (PG-13) ★✩✩✩✩