When Summit screened footage from Bruce Willis' new film 'Red' this year at Comic-Con, I admit that I was concerned - not because I didn't like it, mind you, but because I feared that I'd already seen all of the best parts. Thankfully, I was mistaken, and Willis' movie still contains plenty of surprises, no matter how many times you've watched John Malkovich square off against a rocket launcher with a revolver. But other than what's already out there, I won't spoil 'Red' any further, except to say that it's an engaging, well-made action comedy that benefits from the talents of its decidedly mature cast members, even if it unspools with a pace better suited to their generation than the moviegoers that grew up watching their earlier movies.
Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired CIA spook who spends his days maintaining the pretense of a normal life, and his nights chatting with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a romance novel-loving paper pusher who dreams of a more exciting life outside her office cubicle. One night, a group of masked men show up Frank's house and try to kill him; narrowly escaping his attackers, he promptly turns up at Sarah's, convinced that whoever is after him might target her next.
Despite her initial reservations, she slowly begins to realize that Frank may be her best hope for survival, especially when a hot-headed CIA operative named William Cooper (Karl Urban) initiates a relentless pursuit. But after Frank reunites with a group of his fellow retirees, including Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren), they collectively decide not only to take whatever steps are necessary to maintain their survival, but to find out – and take out – whoever is trying to have them killed.
Having matured (such as I ever will) as a moviegoer during the days of Quentin Tarantino's 'Reservoir Dogs' and 'Pulp Fiction,' I feel like I've kind of outgrown "cool" movies where characters immersed in a dangerous world observe it with ironic detachment, and acknowledge their violent exploits with a joyful, knowing wink. 'Red,' which was directed by Robert Schwentke ('Flightplan'), possesses this same sort of irreverence-cum-indifference to human life, and yet, the sum of the parts are significantly greater than the whole, thanks to terrific performances by everyone involved. In particular, the film marks Willis' best role at least since 'Sin City,' if not 'Unbreakable,' and he manages to maintain the pretense that the cast is having as much fun as the audience is supposed to be.
Meanwhile, Malkovich seems only to be getting more interesting with age, not just reveling in his flabby physicality but integrating it into his performance as a paranoid former test-subject still convinced he's constantly under attack. Freeman has little to do in the film, but he maximizes his screen time as a terminal cancer patient who's determined to go out in a blaze of glory rather than in a retirement home. And Mirren and Parker steal the show as, respectively, another restless, gun-slinging retiree and the newcomer who regards all of the action with a spectator's sense of fun; that said, Parker settles a little too easily into a world where bullets are constantly whizzing by her head, but Mirren's obvious on-screen comfort with firearms makes not only for some of the film's most exciting moments, but its funniest as well.
My only minor issues with the film revolve around its pacing, which feels more slack than typical action fare, and its occasional determination, against all contrary reactions, to convince the audience that it's constant, indisputable fun. (Although there are plenty more of them, the jokes in the trailer are no longer funny in the film itself.) But its themes of getting older, not to mention reclaiming one's youth, will no doubt appeal to older viewers, especially those predisposed to believe that your youthfulness is directly proportionate to the size of the firearm you're wielding. Urban's sparring sessions with Willis, both physical and intellectual, offer a gratifyingly cheeky look at the differences between two people who are the same but come from different generations, and the throughline of the older agent's confrontation-torch passing to his successor closes the film's emotional loop even as it helps wrap up errant plot details.
Otherwise, my only tiny problem with 'Red' is its filmmaker's decision to use The Meters' "Cissy Strut" when the characters arrive in Chicago, since there's plenty of great indigenous Chi-town tunes, and the characters do actually spend time in New Orleans. But my nerdy music nitpicking notwithstanding, Schwentke's film succeeds in providing enough thrills to keep action-addicted teens entertained, while at the same time offering something just slower and substantive enough to entice their elders. And even if you're so excited for 'Red' that you've been rewatching the trailer over and over again studying every gunshot, line spoken, and set-piece setup, rest assured that you can still go into the film feeling completely green.