Directed by Robert Schwentke
The acknowledged limits of comic book adaptations dictate
that a movie based on a comic book is a property first, then, maybe, a
self-sustained work of art. Within that sadly conciliatory realm of
expectations, the new adaptation of Red,
a wisp of a three-issue mini-series by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, is
surprisingly sharp, though curiously sleepy. Director Robert Schwentke has no
eye for spectacle: while many of the film’s action scenes are sufficiently
cocky and well assembled, none of them are memorably explosive.
Red succeeds, however, in ways that many comic book movies usually don’t.
Miraculously, what has survived on the screen of screenwriters Erich and Jon
Hoeber’s (the half-cocked but fitfully satisfying recent White-Out adaptation) script appears to be mostly
compromise-free. It is as wholly invested in its vision of older CIA assassins
as it can be (meaning it’s fairly sober when it comes to typically scatological
geriatric humor and hence thankfully devoid of horny, rapping or pot-smoking
grannies and fogies). As a character-driven action comedy, the Hoebers give
priority to banter instead of plot. And thankfully, the film’s assembly of
comedic talent is considerable enough to make that atypical emphasis work. If
anything, Red works better as a
comedy than as an action film, which automatically makes it better than most of
its peers. If only that meant it was worth remembering in six months’ time.
Red’s plot is
knowingly insubstantial: Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) ends his retirement from
black ops assignments after a group of killers invade his home and tries to
murder him. This also puts Sarah (Mary-Louse Parker), Frank’s dream girl and
the office drone that handles his pension, at risk as Frank’s phone calls have
been monitored. So Frank goes out of his way to abduct Sarah and bring her on a
nation-wide trip to gather together his old posse—horny but trustworthy Joe
(Morgan Freeman); psychotic, drug-addled Marvin (John Malkovich); and the
stiff-upper-lip British lady killer Victoria (Helen Mirren)—to save their necks
and clear their names.
Considering how badly butchered something like Mark
Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s script for Jonah Hex was when filmed, viewers should be grateful that the only noticeably
unsatisfactory thing about Red is how visually unremarkable it is. True, within the film’s “I’m too old for
this shit” logic, there should be a level of ordinariness to the film’s
violence. But certainly not to the point that a scene where Malkovich lobs a
grenade back to its sender using his gun as a tennis racket is completely
over-shadowed by a later one in which he manically chases after a group of armed
men with only a makeshift bomb strapped to his chest and a crazed look
plastered on his face.
The fact that that this is the case, however, confirms that Red, above all, belongs to its cast. In other words: One should forgive Schwentke for hanging back to frame his accomplished actors’
reactions more often than actually givign them things to react to.
Louise-Parker and Willis don’t have chemistry but Mirren and Malkovich
certainly do in one scene where Malkovich feeds her clips of bullets for one of
the several conspicuously large guns Mirren wields. Schwentke and the Hoebers have
done their cast due diligence, even if there really ought to be more to it than