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


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