Monday, 8 November 2010

Mad, RED And Dangerous To Know

It's always disappointing when a film fails to live up to the sum of its parts. One of the many, many films I watched over the summer, Cop Out, seemed like it was onto a winner- directed by Kevin Smith, the slacker-comedy King of the 1990s, and starring Bruce Willis- no stranger to a witty smirk/action comedy- and Tracy Morgan, from the brilliant 30 Rock, it came with quite a pedigree. And then it started. It didn't take me long to realise that someone had forgotten to put any jokes into this comedy. Not only that, but I had the sudden sad realisation that Kevin Smith just isn't funny anymore. He's not even particularly relevant anymore. Tracy Morgan's shouty man-child act has been done to death by Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence, and Bruce Willis phoned in a one-note side-smirk performance that indicated he wasn't there to play anyone other than Bruce Willis.

Brucey Baby followed this up with a(nother) smirking, self-referential cameo in The Expendables, and when I first saw the trailer for Red, I wasn't exactly brimming with excitement. Still, when I read that it was based on a graphic novel and also starred Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John MALKATRAZ, I was definitely hooked. Even if Bruce relied on his usual 'good guy having a bad day' schtick, the rest of the cast would more than make up for it.
It's good to know that even in these times of economic hardship, there is still work available to those who are willing to look for it. Even those who are past 'working age', as it were, are still more than capable of flower-arranging, putting up Christmas lights and... assassination? Not exactly something you'd picture your granny doing, but that's the beauty of comic books- anything can happen.

Bruce is Frank Moses, an bored ex-CIA agent who spends his days reading romance novels chatting on the phone to Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a call centre worker who deals with lost federal pension cheques. Of course the cheques aren't lost- Frank just likes the company, and when we meet them, the pair have clearly struck up some kind of over-the-phone rapport. His neighbours in suburban Cleveland, Ohio think he was just an analyst for the CIA. So far, so normal.

Frank's idyllic, albeit stiflingly boring, retirement plans are rudely interrupted when a gang of masked assassins break into his house in the middle of the night, and shoot the place to pieces. Quite literally. Annoying, no? Frank's reaction is to drive to Kansas and pick up Sarah, as their frequent conversations have made her a target too. Something in Frank's past has made him a target- he knows something, and he knows too much. He sets off on a road trip of sorts, recruiting his old crew along the way. Joe (Morgan Freeman) spends his time ogling young nurses in his retirement home, Marvin (John Malkovich) is hiding out in the Florida Everglades living underground, intensely paranoid about satellites after 11 years of secretly being given LSD, and Victoria (Helen Mirren) is running a B&B and enjoys flower-arranging. And, in her own words, 'taking on the odd hit on the side'.

Needless to say age hasn't dimmed their special skills at all and the gang are only too happy to hop back on the bandwagon and kick ass one last time. As they find themselves deeper involved in old government secrets and up against their former employers, the body count and cameos come thick and fast- also joining in are Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss (wow, is this guy irritating or what?) and even Ernest Borgnine makes an appearance. It may not be the most intelligent thriller and the storyline seems a little on the slight side- in fact it mostly seems to be there as a convenient way to pass time in between high-octane set pieces. Still, the cast put their all into their performances. Bruce seems far more comfortable here than in the aformentioned awfulness of Cop Out, and it's worth ticket price (ahem) alone to see The Queen taking down bad guys with a machine gun. Despite the ridiculous premise Dame Helen still manages to bring a touch of class to the proceedings. It's John Malkovich who is having the most fun of all, and every scene with him is a total riot. He's like Cyrus the Virus's non-evil grandad... with years of hallucinogenic abuse thrown in.

So, it's maybe not the most conplex storyline and in fact it seems like the plot is there merely to move from set piece to set piece... But the action and performances are what lifts the film from so-so to full-on action/comedy that fulfills both without compromising on either- and when do you ever really see that? As much as I loved the balls-out manliness of The Expendables, it never really seemed to let the audience in on the joke- if there was one. Red gives a knowing 'nod and wink' to the viewer and the lightweight fluff of the script is given a boost by this and the central performances. It's familiar enough to be comfortable, but there's enough going on to make you care if the characters get to the bottom of what's going on- if they make it at all. See it, unplug your brain and smile. Unless you're Kevin Smith.

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