★ One of Five Stars
Rated PG13/111 min.
Sometimes, a film provides a group of actors with the perfect vehicle for their talents, perhaps even helping resuscitate their careers. Then there are movies like Red, a dud of an action comedy that squanders an outstanding cast.
Bruce Willis stars as a RED, which stands for “Retired and Extremely Dangerous.” He’s a former secret agent who reunites with his old crew (played by Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich) to take down a couple of corrupt bad guys (Karl Urban and Richard Dreyfuss). The early scenes are promising: Willis has a crush on a customer-service worker (Mary Louise Parker) he has only spoken to over the phone and he suggests they take the next step and meet one another. The question of whether they’ll meet is intriguing, even if he wasn’t a RED agent. Unfortunately, once Parker enters the film, her character seems to develop a severe case of Stockholm syndrome, conveniently falling for RED despite the fact that he kidnaps her, and their relationship only gets less believable and interesting from there. Parker is a wonderful actress who can hold the screen with Willis, so why is she reduced to the role of damsel in distress? The character and performer are misused—and so is everyone else.
The gimmick is the Grumpy Old Killers angle, with the sight of a game Mirren and a hammy Malkovich shooting up a restaurant kitchen the obvious highlight and one of the few memorable moments. But why did Mirren wait until now to make a stupid action movie (and why this one?) and when did Malkovich go the Christopher Walken self-parody route? Watching these middle-aged acting giants attempt to play living action figures is like watching your mom fumble through a first-person shooter video game: it’s cute but you’re not buying it.
Willis isn’t really playing a role—his part is simply an opportunity to acknowledge his iconic status, something he’s already done twice this year, in Cop Out and The Expendables. Freeman once again slums it in a movie that doesn’t deserve his considerable presence. Dreyfuss, Urban and Rebecca Pidgeon also have parts that could and should have been taken by lesser actors.
Like half of the movies in theaters these days, this is based on a graphic novel, but whatever worked on paper didn’t make it to the big screen. It’s never very exciting or funny, yet so self-satisfied, it seems to be saying, “Behold, a franchise is born!” One can argue that Willis, Freeman, Mirren and Malkovich have played so many complex, tortured souls, they deserve the chance to cut loose in a brainless time-killer. The problem is, if you take away the brains, you have to replace them with something.