30 November 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Cyrus



Review Link:

Movie Review: Legion



2010, 100mins, 15
Director: Scott Stewart
Writer (s): Peter Schink, Scott Stewart
Cast includes: Paul Bettany, Adrianne Palicki, Lucas Black, Kevin Durand, Dennis Quaid
UK Release Date: 5th March 2010

Scott Stewart’s “Legion” is a shockingly palatable filmic experience, especially given the heated critical hatred the movie inspired earlier this year. The movie was trashed by reviewers across the globe, and its box-office totals weren’t exactly jaw dropping. Still, despite this mire of pessimism, “Legion” still offers enough silly thrills to garner a moderate recommendation. It’s pure Friday night rental fodder, but with a couple of beers and a tolerance for awful dialogue, it amounts to an acceptably executed 100 minute diversion.

God has lost his patience with humanity, the race having exhausted any possibility for redemption in their creator’s eyes. As a result a swarm of death and destruction is unleashed upon the planet, with special attention being directed towards a pregnant waitress named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki). Her unborn child remains the only hope for mankind’s survival, and as a result it has been made the most important target of the forthcoming apocalypse. As a demonic throng attacks the remote diner in which Charlie works, the archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) arrives, having defied his master’s orders, his intentions to save Charlie and the baby. As the other inhabitants of the diner desperately attempt to understand what’s going on, Michael prepares for outright warfare, fortifying the building and arming the residents with high powered weaponry to combat the evil forces trying to enter. Michael suspects the key is holding out until Charlie can give birth, but with each passing hour the bloodshed increases and their resistance looks more likely to snap.

“Legion” marks Stewart’s directorial debut, his previous line of work having been in the world of visual effects. As a result it isn’t surprising that “Legion” is at least a polished looking affair, the film boasting some atmospheric cinematography and ample FX work. The film’s colour scheme is rather variable, but Stewart consistently keeps the mood pitched in the realm of despair, oscillating between vacant sun baked locations and foreboding darkness. The film does a good job of creating an aura of isolation, concocting a believably distant tone for the action to unfold within. Society feels far detached from the hell raising shenanigans we see onscreen, allowing “Legion” to cultivate a rather naturalistic tension. At no point do we feel that help is on the way for the central characters.

The picture attempts to mould together action and horror, the overall product a certifiably mixed bag. There are moments of Zombie siege that hark back nicely to the works of Romero, these sequences benefiting from genuine suspense and some restrained yet taut action beats. The numerous minions of death featured in the film are a rather unsettling bunch, special mention going to Jeanette Miller as an elderly woman with a penchant for bloody steak and walking on the ceiling. Stewart does a good job of displaying visceral ferocity in the earlier sections, but fails to maintain the momentum when the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) enters the mix during the movie’s third act. Conceived as an obvious opposite to Bettany’s honourable Michael, Gabriel just isn’t that intimidating due to Durand’s limp performance. The final act of “Legion” is definitely the least successful; the filmmakers overusing the bland nemesis and resorting to a series of hazily edited hand to hand combat moments. “Legion” works far better when it’s the protagonists holed up in the diner, desperately sniping at all manner of ghouls and spirits.

The religious undercurrents are slapped on a little too obviously at times, although there are cool instances such as a crucifix shaped explosion to enjoy. The story is pretty thin, and the dialogue hysterically bad, but “Legion” does boast a nice line in visual invention, scoring moments of pure B-movie bliss as God attempts to unleash chaos against the main characters. A scene in which a victim is crucified upside down and covered with pulsating skin ulcers is commendably gross, equally is the moment in which a car is infested by thousands of ravenous locusts. Stewart does a grand job of making “Legion” interesting for the eyes, even if at times it’s insufferable for the ears.

Bettany is a veritable badass as Michael, everything from his arrival at the diner to his departure at the film’s climax reeking of smouldering cool. The British actor favours a less is more approach with the hero, and the results are terrific fun. The supporting players aren’t as appealing, most of them drawn as obvious screenwriting stereotypes. Palicki and Dennis Quaid (playing the owner of the diner) are agreeable enough, but Lucas Black (portraying Quaid’s son and a sickeningly simpleminded love interest for Palicki) is dreadful, failing completely to connect with the audience during his numerous scenes.

Ultimately “Legion” is a cheesy and intensely schlocky product, with a final shot as hackneyed as any in Hollywood. However it coasts along at a decent clip and provides oodles of ridiculous entertainment, all wrapped up in a rather upmarket aesthetic. As a result it’s worth a look one of these days, and whenever you do see it, cheerful giggles are sure to follow.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

25 November 2010

Movie Review: Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1



Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1
2010, 146mins, 12
Director: David Yates
Writer: Steve Kloves
Cast includes: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, Bill Nighy, David Thewlis
UK Release Date: 19th November 2010

"Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows : Part 1” is a tremendous opening half to the climactic stages of this mighty saga, offering a hugely satisfactory blockbusting watch. Following on from last year’s equally impressive “The Half Blood Prince”, “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is a moody and eerily unsettling piece of cinema, wonderfully depicting the quiet before what is sure to be a frightening storm. Taking the Potter saga in a direction of almost unrelenting darkness, filmmaker David Yates has cooked up both a visual and dramatic treat here, all nicely topped off by three career best performances from the young leads.

Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is at the peak of his powers, having successfully infiltrated the high offices of the wizarding world and dispatching anybody foolish enough to stand in his way. After a daring rescue mission, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is reunited with old friends and allies, and future plans are forged in order to halt Voldemort’s wicked influence engulfing their lives. In a bid to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) decide to go on the run, heading into deep forests and icy glades to avoid the minions of evil discovering them. If obliterated the Horcruxes will drain all of Voldemort’s power, but they’re almost impossible to find and harder yet to destroy. Using a select few tools left to them in the deceased Dumbledore’s will, the band of friends fire headfirst into their mission, but external dangers and personal tensions are never far behind.

“Deathly Hallows: Part 1” removes the action completely from Hogwarts; this is the first film in the Potter cycle to be left without the comfortable narrative template of an academic calendar. Instead the picture opts for a much more chaotic and horrific tone, director David Yates displaying perfectly a world tarnished by nefarious deeds and an ominous future. Without the comforting silhouette of Dumbledore, this marks the first movie in which are heroes are placed decidedly on the back foot, with the consistently threatening Voldemort now having taken charge. Ralph Fiennes once again steps nicely into the role of the nastiest wizard in town, bringing genuine malice and cold heartedness to his performance. In many ways thanks to these unfortunate storytelling circumstances and Fiennes’s cunningly disturbing turn, “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” almost plays like a slow burning horror effort with chase elements. It’s a welcome treat and a delightful change of pace for those who like their fantasy a little more macabre.

Radcliffe, Watson and Grint all soar to new heights here, finally banishing the doubts that have tormented them since debuting as their respective characters in 2001. Each actor is able to perfectly articulate the angst of adulthood (John Hughes would be proud), and more now than ever the cracks in their relationships are utilized as prime dramatic fodder. As a group of best friends they make for a believably warm trio, but there are outbursts of anger and friction to be enjoyed here also. The uncertain romantic dynamic that has teetered around the Ron/Hermione relationship for several films finally comes full circle, whilst scenes of heated debate between Radcliffe and Grint feel more organic than they have in any past production. However in many ways it’s Watson who deserves the grandest backslap of all, the 20 year old actress bringing a subtle distress and melancholy to her part which smacks of true artistic maturity.

This being a Harry Potter picture an assortment of Britain’s best and brightest are on hand to fill out the supporting roles, all the regulars faring pretty well. New additions include Bill Nighy (small part, sweet performance) and Rhys Ifans (commendably batty), both thespians slotting comfortably into the saga’s already legendary acting hall of fame.

Visually the film is glorious, Yates painting the film in shades of deep grey and morose white, allowing a feeling of despair and fear to dominate the photographical palette. The production design is dependably high end, and the visual effects are virtually flawless throughout. “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” begins with a phenomenal slice of action; a brilliantly constructed broomstick chase over the streets of London. The scene is steadily shot and very exciting, Yates using crackerjack tension and state of the art FX knowhow to create moments of tantalizing popcorn fun. The middle section of the movie is a far more meditative experience, as the screenplay becomes intensely focused on the social isolation and fixation with death that the central figures are left to endure. Of all the movies so far “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is the most emotionally complex and insightful, the screenplay courtesy of Steve Kloves engaging themes that most big budget fare wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.

For a family flick “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is rather aggressive, the movie not allergic to showing a little graphic violence. Yates has no trouble fishing up the odd gory shot, and there are moments of bone crunching torture here that will legitimately scare the under 12 crowd. It’s a brave and rewarding move, allowing the audience to comprehend the extent of the jeopardy the good guys are in. This being only one half of the final chapter (the next film arrives summer 2011) the story is left unfinished, but the moment of departure isn’t a cheery one. “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” concludes at a moment of exhilarating promise, but things certainly aren’t looking up for Harry and company.

At 146 minutes in length the project is a hefty event, but the running time glides by with compelling ease. “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” feels like a standard 90 minute affair, and if that isn’t an editorial marvel I don’t know what is. Of course much of this picture’s relevance and long-term entertainment value depends on a high quality payoff come next year, but for now this is a hugely encouraging sign of things to come.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

22 November 2010

Movie Review: The Bounty Hunter



The Bounty Hunter
2010, 110mins, 12
Director: Andy Tennant
Writer: Sarah Thorp
Cast includes: Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, Jason Sudeikis, Jeff Garlin, Christine Baranski, Peter Greene
UK Release Date: 17th March 2010

“The Bounty Hunter” is a foul motion picture, and yet another in a long line of projects to waste the talents of Jennifer Aniston. Since her heyday as Rachel in “Friends “Aniston has impressed with her effortless charm, sex appeal and surprisingly deft comic touch. “The Bounty Hunter” is another numbskull Rom-Com that refuses to give the actress anything interesting to do, instead abandoning her amidst a mire of dreadful jokes and weak plotting. However her male co-star Gerard Butler is exactly the sort of performer who should occupy this sort of DOA comedy, the Scotsman once again proving why he’s one of the worst leading men currently populating mainstream Hollywood.

Nicole (Jennifer Aniston) is a committed and dedicated journalist, and one with a hot tip concerning a recent and highly suspicious suicide. In order to get more firsthand information for her article, Nicole skips a court appearance regarding a minor misdemeanour, and a warrant is quickly established for her arrest. Taking up the task of capturing her is bounty hunter Milo (Gerard Butler), who also has the distinguishing feature of being Nicole’s ex-husband. It doesn’t take Milo long before he catches up with Nicole, quickly detaining his target with plans to take her directly to jail. However Nicole’s journalistic prodding quickly interrupts matters, revealing her hunches to be correct as goons and gangsters emerge from the woodwork in an attempt to terminate her. As a result Milo is forced to help her investigate the story, which in turn ignites a spark within their flailing relationship.

Warning signs should flash as soon as director Any Tennant’s name appears in the credits of any movie, the man could helm a picture providing the formula for money trees or the cure for cancer, and yet it would almost certainly still be worthless. Tennant has guided recent stinkers like “Hitch” and “Fool’s Gold”, yet somehow “The Bounty Hunter” tops them all in terms of sheer awfulness. The film has no energy or invention, Tennant piecing together the production as unimaginatively as possible. “The Bounty Hunter” fancies itself as an action comedy, but the movie fails notably in both arenas. It’s hardly a surprise that the film isn’t funny, after all Tennant has proved several times that he has absolutely no aptitude for comic timing, but he fudges the action just as badly. Any sequence in which a gun is brandished or a car chase ensues is miserably pedestrian, Tennant having seemingly learnt his trade from a copy of “generic filmmaking for dummies”. His direction is so lifeless and dull that no amount of bullets or fist fights can save the wretched enterprise, especially when they’re filmed with so little panache or flair.

The central relationship is poorly sketched out by a dismal screenplay, and the sad sack chemistry between Aniston and Butler doesn’t help either. Both actors are physically attractive, but never do they manage to emit any heat or sexiness, instead depicting their dynamic as one rife with petty squabbles and nasty bickering. Aniston clearly thinks her natural likability will cover up any cracks surrounding her individual performance (and to be fair it kind of does), but Butler is just as insufferable as ever. The actor storms around the picture in the most idiotic of fashions, obnoxiously spouting lame gags and generally just embracing his distasteful moronic persona too heartily. Butler also fluffs every dramatic moment the movie attempts to spin, granted the script sucks so badly that these scenes probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, but the actor’s boorish and shallow performance is what undercuts these instances from the outset.

The crime solving mystery that’s meant to pull the whole thing together is ridiculously bland, a sin that might have been forgivable if the jokes were any good, but they’re not. The supporting cast comprises of broad and unoriginal work from otherwise talented folks, Jeff Garlin (underused), Christine Baranski (overly familiar) and SNL comedian Jason Sudeikis (tolerable but forgettable) just some of the casualties this atrocity boasts.

“The Bounty Hunter” is a completely unrewarding watch, and a pitch perfect example of how drab and uninspired contemporary Rom-Coms have become. The film fails to stir a single titter, the action is beyond crappy and the central relationship has all the sass and electricity of a month old used condom. Jennifer Aniston is worth better material than this, and Gerard Butler should stop testing the world’s patience and just give up the acting game altogether. After all, careers have died on the back of better things than “The Bounty Hunter”. Much better things.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

17 November 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Winter's Bone



Review Link:

DVD Verdict Review: Three and Out



Review Link:

10 November 2010

Retro Review: Bruce Almighty (2003)



Bruce Almighty
2003, 101mins, PG-13
Director: Tom Shadyac
Writer (s): Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe, Steve Oedekerk
Cast includes: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Philip Baker Hall, Morgan Freeman

UK Release Date: 27th June 2003

Is “Bruce Almighty” the best Jim Carrey film ever? I’ll answer that with a resounding no. The manic comic has been responsible for some of the funniest films of the last 20 years (“Ace Ventura Pet Detective”, “Liar Liar”), and has handed in some of the sharpest dramatic turns of any recent Hollywood superstar (“The Truman Show”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), so 2003’s uneven “Bruce Almighty” doesn’t exactly rank as one of his most memorable. Taking a high concept premise (not an unusual occurrence in Carrey’s career), “Almighty” imagines a world in which God endows his power on a mere mortal, and when said mortal is Jim Carrey you know it’s going to be a stupendously silly time.

Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is a struggling reporter, constantly handed fluff pieces whilst other TV staff are granted the material which wins you Pulitzer prizes. After a particularly hideous day sees Bruce fired, the put upon journalist blames God for his misfortune, thus accidently conjuring up a meeting with the Almighty (Morgan Freeman). God gives Bruce his divine abilities temporarily, allowing Bruce to see the strains that being the ultimate creator can produce. However the newly empowered man simply goes about bettering his own life, something that eventually puts a strain on his girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston), and leaves Bruce with a major headache as the prayers of the world go unanswered.

“Bruce Almighty” is two thirds of a really enjoyable comedy, the final act being the disappointing section that lets the entire enterprise down. Director Tom Shadyac (who oversaw the first Ace Ventura flick and “Liar Liar”) keeps a solid energy throughout, but bungles the climax in a heap of sentimentality and schmaltz. The filmmaker has been guilty of overindulging his tearjerker tendencies in the past, 1998’s vile “Patch Adams” being the key example, but at least with that movie there was nothing to ruin. “Patch Adams” was awful from start to finish; “Bruce Almighty” on the other hand has solidly crafted opening and middle sections to undermine.

Carrey balances his inspired lunacy nicely with some lower key dramatic stuff, forcing the movie to raise its game simply through his momentous presence. The relationship with Jennifer Aniston is so-so, the two performers connecting effectively, but struggling to overcome an underwritten romantic dynamic. Aniston is her usual likeable self, and for most of the picture Carrey has no trouble sourcing giggles and smirks from the central concept. His trademark enthusiasm is evident from the first frame and some of the facial gymnastics and impressions he deploys hark back delightfully to the brilliance of Ace Ventura. As God Freeman is exceptionally well cast (his reprisal of the role would later be one of only few bright spots in this film’s unnecessary and Carrey-less sequel “Evan Almighty”), bringing a pathos and wisdom to his depiction of the ultimate being that adds a touch of class to proceedings. Finally a pre-stardom Steve Carell also impresses, playing a snarky newsroom competitor. A sequence involving Carell and some choice teleprompter interference from Carrey is amongst the best this feature has to offer, and showcases just how physically astute and creative a performer Carell can be.

“Bruce Almighty” should have no trouble keeping punters entertained for the majority of its duration, the screenplay combining scatological and irreverent sensibilities with the fertile premise to neat effect. Not every gag works, and some are simply too easy, but on the whole this is a picture primed with belly laughs. Well until the final 25 minutes that is. As Shadyac starts to ply his thick coat of saccharine moralizing on the product he begins to choke its comedic pulse, loosing focus on the religious lampooning, instead becoming preoccupied with the mundane relationship between Carrey and Aniston. The film hits its nadir right at the end, overfilling its sappy glass with sickly sweet moments including a teary and praying Grace, or indeed the very last sequence which overcompensates frantically with a tone of nauseatingly artificial cheer. Before these things start to dominate, “Bruce Almighty” is an excellent studio comedy, but after sitting through them it’s hard to see the film as anything more than a serviceable outing for its talented lead.

It doesn’t feel like seven years since this film’s release, “Bruce Almighty” sparked a healthy box-office take back in the summer of 2003. Some might argue that this was the last live action Carrey picture to deliver truly blockbusting numbers, a combination of odder career choices (“The Number 27”, this year’s fabulous “I Love you Phillip Morris”) and weaker comedies (2005’s mediocre “Fun with Dick and Jane” being a good example) having dimmed the thespian’s financial pulling power. The era of the movie star is now in decline, meaning that Carrey might be remembered alongside the likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Will Smith as the last of this dying breed. “Bruce Almighty” probably won’t be heralded as one of his calling cards in the future, but on the whole it’s a flawed yet moderately diverting effort.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

7 November 2010

Movie Review: Due Date



Due Date
2010, 100mins, 15
Director: Todd Phillips
Writer (s): Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Todd Phillips, Adam Sztykiel
Cast includes: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx, Danny McBride, Juliette Lewis
UK Release Date: 5th November 2010

Following last year’s hysterical smash hit “The Hangover”, director Todd Phillips has opted to make his follow-up “Due Date” a road trip picture. Phillips has covered such bases before (with 2000’s “Road Trip no less), but with Robert Downey Jr. and breakout star Zach Galifianakis onboard, “Due Date” seemed to be promising a whole lot more than that project ever could. Sadly the picture can’t match the euphoric heights of “The Hangover”, clinging to a much less original plotline and spinning some surprisingly obvious gags. “Due Date” is probably best described as an agreeable crowd-pleaser, it gets what it needs to do done (and with famous faces), but provides little extra to further sate fans of rambunctious comedy.

With the birth of his firstborn fast approaching, Peter (Robert Downey Jr.) has a lot to be nervous about. In a bid to make it home in time for the big event, Peter meets Ethan (Zach Galifianakis) an imbecilic wannabe actor whose stupidity gets the pair arrested at the airport. With both men being refused flight privileges, the duo are forced to team up (alongside Ethan’s dog Sunny), and reach Los Angeles to achieve their various goals. Pete simply wants to be on hand when his wife (Michelle Monaghan) delivers their child, whilst Ethan has Hollywood aspirations and a desire to see his cremated father buried at an American landmark. Each man immediately takes a dislike to the other, and of course as a result, crazy shenanigans ensue.

“Due Date” doesn’t quite match the sum of its parts, it’s a perfectly affable feature, but hardly the laugh riot promotional materials promised. Both Downey Jr. and Galifianakis have been funnier than they are here in the past, and the pair’s dynamic is serviceable rather than electric. The character of Peter is perhaps written too darkly in parts, but the supremely likable Downey renders him a tolerable screen presence for the film’s duration. Galifianakis’s performance is on the other hand virtually indistinguishable from his weirdo groove in “The Hangover”, it’s still modestly amusing, but one fears this is the last time such a similar turn will be tolerated from the comic. Together the pair generates the perfunctory comedy sparks, deploying witty barbs and obscene gestures to give the onscreen chemistry a believably hostile tone. It’s also worth noting that both characters are watchable for the sake of giggles, but neither possesses particularly warm or attractive personalities. As a result whilst “Due Date” does grind out some cheerful laughter, it rarely connects on an emotional note of any depth. After all, in “The Hangover” we genuinely wanted the protagonists to succeed on their mission; here the central journey is far less engaging.

The theme of paternity runs through the picture, as Peter prepares to become a dad and Ethan struggles with the passing of his own father. At times this aspect of the film almost succeeds (a surprisingly affecting moment were Galifianakis uses an acting demonstration to display the raw pain he feels over his dad’s death is a highlight), but then comes a sequence in which Downey punches a child. This sort of imbalance between attempted emotional conviction and mean spirited slapstick doesn’t sit too comfortably within the overall product, again hollowing out any hopes “Due Date” has of becoming a soulful experience.

The movie does supply some pretty decent jokes, and the dialogue is sharply penned throughout. At times Phillips definitely opts for the easy gag (dog masturbation, topless fat guy etc...), but for the most part “Due Date” provides a consistent stream of amicable humour. The production isn’t afraid to shoot a little edgier than most studio comedies (a subplot involving adultery evidences this nicely), and on these grounds audiences will likely be thankful. The central narrative template may not be particularly memorable, but “Due Date” does at least offer a handful of comically motivated scenes that are. Phillips also deserves kudos for doing such technically competent work on the picture, it’s both professionally edited and skilfully photographed. “Due Date” deserves a shout out also for a well staged car crash sequence, a moment that the director captures as energetically and effectively as most contemporary blockbusting filmmakers.

The supporting cast is filled out by vibrant performers, some are entertaining (Danny McBride, Juliette Lewis) others just aren’t given enough to do (Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx). “Due Date” is a pleasant diversion for its reasonable 100 minute runtime; however audience members are unlikely to cherish the picture as visibly as they did its helmer’s last directorial foray. The movie scores enough goofy chuckles to scrape a passing grade, but probably not enough to warrant a trip to your local multiplex.”Due Date” is the sort of stuff that DVD rentals were invented for.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

6 November 2010

Movie Review: Red



2010, 111mins, 12
Director: Robert Schwentke
Writer (s): Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber
Cast includes: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary Louise-Parker, Karl Urban
UK Release Date: 22nd October 2010

Robert Schwentke’s “Red” is a hugely disappointing film, primarily because in more trustworthy hands it could have been a treat. Adapted from a respected graphic novel of the same name, “Red” also boasts a potentially awesome cast, a fact that only further confuses as to how the property has been morphed into a blatant cinematic bomb. Having a hack like Schwentke calling the shots can’t have helped (he directed 2005’s drab “Flightplan”), but the real criminals appear to be screenwriters Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, who have condensed the source material into a pappy and intensely predictable farce.

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) doesn’t have the most fulfilling of existences; he lives alone, his only proper connection with the outside world being a budding phone relationship with a woman named Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) who works for the pension office. When a SWAT team arrives at his residence during the dead of night, Frank suspects foul play; whisking Sarah away to safety after disposing of the gun totting home invaders. It quickly becomes apparent that somebody wants Frank dead, along with his past CIA teammates. As a result Frank looks to get his old black-ops gang back together, a group composed of Victoria (Helen Mirren), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Joe (Morgan Freeman). However finding answers won’t be easy; especially as a proficient government operative named Cooper (Karl Urban) is hot on their trail.

In fairness the action sequences in “Red” are technically competent, they lack flair or invention, but at least Schwentke has the decency to execute them coherently and with the minimal amount of camera spasms. “Red” also rolls out its set pieces with a respectable regularity; the film never sits around too long before unleashing a hail of bullets or destructive carnage. However these things (and a crazy John Malkovich) are all “Red” really has to recommend it, the rest of the movie being an ineptly plotted drag through familiar territory.

Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren both look very bored, neither providing much heart or even effort in their attempts to create enjoyable screen entities. Willis in particular is just skating over the same hard edged genre beats he’s built over half his career on, his performance here is just John McClane without the underdog spirit or witty one liners. Freeman’s part is more of an extended cameo, the talented actor infusing every scene he’s in with a little added gravitas, but not much else. Malkovich on the other hand is absurdly entertaining as the group’s barmiest member, and is debatably the only participant who effectively connects with the script’s underlying comic tone. As a group there isn’t much chemistry on display, neither is there any visible in the budding relationship erupting between Mary Louise- Parker and Willis. Parker is shrill but oddly likable, yet she and the leading man never source a believable or tangible connection. Karl Urban is perfectly fine as the wooden CIA spook; although an actor of his calibre should be seeking more obviously challenging roles.

The storyline is fairly complex, but instead of thrilling with its twists, “Red” opts to bore the audience. Schwentke tackles the plot in a pedestrian fashion, becoming muddled in its many components before the climax of the second act. By the halfway point “Red” becomes a thoroughly monotonous endeavour, no longer involving and offering nothing close to a compelling narrative. The espionage fuelled detours the screenplay insists on throwing at the audience are numerous, but equally old hat, resulting in an infuriatingly predictable and overdrawn cinematic experience. At a beefy 111 minutes the picture feels bloated and overextended, a more clinical pace might have excised some of the needless exposition that litters the picture, and allowed this turkey to operate as the diverting popcorn fare it was designed to be.

The comedy beats in “Red” are pretty weak, the filmmakers opting for easy tomfoolery over anything that could be considered fresh or intelligent. The visual image of Helen Mirren pumping on a machine gun is in reality an unimaginative gag, something of which “Red has many. The finale is much like the rest of the action accomplished only on a practical level; otherwise it’s lacking in atmosphere and devoid of tension. The surprise bad guy revel at the climax is also worryingly unconvincing, “Red” wasting any chance to undo its opening and middle chapters with an equally pitiful denouement.

I had modest hopes for “Red”, but unfortunately they were dashed within the opening quarter of an hour. The production quickly adopts an air of tedium, a weakness that only the odd professionally constructed moment of spectacle attempts to redeem. It’s probably not going to be remembered as one of 2010’s worst films, but “Red” is definitely amongst this year’s most forgettable.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010