RED

RED RED RED RED RED

Can a movie be enjoyable and entertaining without being really good? That’s the case of “RED,” the darkly humorous actioner helmed by the German director Robert Schwentke, who is responsible for “The Time Traveler's Wife,” with Charlize Theron, and “Flightplan,” starring Jodie Foster.
 
Based on the DC Comics cult-favorite graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, “RED” (which stands for Retired Extremely Dangerous) is only semi-effective in evoking the goofy, tongue-in-cheek, satirical tone that the source material calls for.
 
 
Despite flaws in the storytelling and the rough transitions in shifting of the tone, “RED” benefits immensely from its highly accomplished all-star cast, headed by Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, and Mary Louise Parker.
 
It’s also good to see in a secondary, but well-written, part Oscar-winning actor Ernest Borgnine (for “Marty,” in 1955), who is in his early 90s, as Henry, a man whose life's work is to guard the CIA's most valuable secrets.
 
The average age of the lead performers is somewhere in the late 60s, and I mention this biological factor in order to indicate how unusual it is for a Hollywood picture, especially in the action genre, to feature such vet actors, all of a certain age.
 
Will young people embrace the film? “RED” has merits, but how commercial the picture is remains to be seen, when Summit releases it on October 15.
 
And the plot?
 
Frank Moses (Bruce Willis, in excellent form) is a fifty-something former black-ops CIA agent who’s now living a quiet life all by himself. Frank's existence is all about maintaining a routine: He gets up each morning at the same time, makes his own breakfast, does his physical exercises, reads the newspaper. However, things change radically, when out of the blue, a hi-tech hit squad shows up one morning at his house intent on killing him.
 
Before that attack, Frank has been engaged in a series of telephone calls with Sarah (Mary Louise Parker, the youngest thespian in the cast), a civilian working for an agency. He complains about not receiving his checks on time, which later turns out to be an excuse for just befriending (and captivating) the attractive, desirable femme. Indeed, the couple has time not only to exchange pleasantries but also to talk about the books they love to read.
 
Before Sarah knows it (and before you can say Jack Robinson), Frank shows up at her Chicago apartment and kidnaps her—sort of. The good chemistry between Willis and Louise-Parker help in compensating for the various contrivances in the yarn, which defies any logic.
 
In the second reel, we get to meet the other key players, Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich), and Victoria (Helen Mirren),  The trio used to be CIA's top agents, but, unfortunately, the secrets that they know and the knowledge that they control have now made them top targets of the Agency.
 
It’s the task of the tale to have Frank’s identity compromised and the life of Sarah, a woman he deeply cares for, seriously endangered.  The goal is to find a decent enough motivation to reassemble the old team in what would become a last ditch effort to survive.
Through flashbacks, we get to know how exactly they collaborated on their missions and what kind of social interactions they had with each other. Thus, Ivan (Brian Cox), a Russian operative and former Cold War spy, was once upon a time Victoria’s lover, and years later he still desires her. Will he succeed in winning her back by rekindling the flamed that defined their affair?
 
Kill or be killed– William Cooper (played by the handsome actor Karl Urban) plays the ruthless, nasty pro, the hi-tech CIA hit man entrusted with the sole task of killing Frank.  Assisting Cooper is Cynthia Wilkes (Rebecca Pidgeon) his ruthless, harsh-as-nails CIA agent-boss.
 
Framed for assassination, the agents must use their cunning skills, physical gifts, considerable experience, and bravado teamwork to stay one step ahead of their deadly pursuers.  "RED" makes sure to contain enough chases and battles to justify the film's label as an actioner. 
 
The second half of the narrative turns into a road picture, when the vet team, along with civilian Sarah in-tow, embarks on an impossible cross-country mission to break into the top-secret CIA headquarters, in Virginia.
 
The comedic elements—and the high-caliber of acting—are far more significant than the plot per se in making "RED" fun to watch.  Not surprisingly, the plot gets progressively routine and conventional, sort of an excuse for the team–call them the Dirty Quintet–to work together again in various locations.
 
Later in the proceedings, we meet Alexander Dunning (Richard Dreyfuss), a wealthy man who builds a greedy fortune out of lucrative government contracts, and Gabriel Singer (James Remar), an ex-military pilot involved in the mysterious cover-up.  Again, Dreyfuss' polished acting helps to camouflage the improbabilities of his role in the story. 
 
As text, “RED” presents yet another version of what the late sociologist C. Wright Mills called "The Power Elite," or the Military-Industrial Complex.  Vice President Stanton (played by Julian McMahon of TV’s "Nip/Tuck" fame) comes across as an ambitious, greedy, corrupt politician with a dark side, occupying a strategic role at the center of the dangerous conspiracy.
 
When the "Wild bunch" uncovers the conspiracy behind the mission to exterminate them (one by one)–which the movie describes as one the biggest cover-ups in U.S. government history–it comes as no surprise to us, because we could have predicted it from the first chapter.
Main problem is the screenplay, by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber (who have also penned “Whiteout, Montana”), which is uneven, containing several dead spots and holes in the narrative, allowing us spectators too much time to reflect on the yarn's contrived and manipulative nature.
 
On the plus side, “RED” is handsomely mounted by a creative production team, which includes cinematographer Florian Ballhaus (“The Devil Wears Prada”), Oscar-winning editor Thom Noble (“Thelma & Louise”), production designer Alec Hammond (“Donnie Darko”), and costume designer Susan Lyall (“Rachel Getting Married”), all of whom had collaborated with director Schwentke on previous projects.