Lost in Time, Love on the Road...
And still this rag-tag, and somewhat elderly band of ex-CIA agents find within themselves the fortitude to turn back the hands of time to fend off a corruptible rogue arm of their former agency bent on their destruction. The simple foil to this premise is: These retired CIA agents aren't ready to die quite yet.
That simple premise is the foundation of "RED," which, in Central Intelligence Agency jargon stands for Retired Extremely Dangerous, keeps the film's protagonist Frank Moses, played by Bruce Willis, entirely occupied. The film, like the retired Mr. Moses, does not slow down from the moment you take your seat till the moment you collect your belongings to leave the theater. It is a film with a purpose, and that purpose is to keep you entertained with constant action and copious quantities of comedic relief, while Frank and his eclectic group of retired agents ever endeavor to remain viable as life forms.
As one sits in the extra-comfortable, rocker command chair in the stadium seating theater, swept-up into Frank Moses's hectic and very dangerous environment, one contemplates the plausibility of his extra-explosive, ear-shattering swirl of a situation, and you realize: It doesn't really matter, because you, like his hapless contemporaries, are irreconcilably involved and there is no turning back until the story's conclusion. And unlike the audience, who willingly forked over the price of admission, Frank's retired comrades are unwillingly drawn into the fray because of who they are and what they have done.
Each of Frank's contemparies are still alive because they excelled at what did - kill people and remain alive during the process. As we meet them, we find that the synergies of their being are the vital components that are indispensable to achieve their objective to stay alive this time. The first of Frank's retired work-mates, that we meet, is the affable Joe Matheson, who is portrayed by screen legend Morgan Freeman. He is steady as a rock, and a deep well of past and new essential information. Frank's second peer brought into the mix is the paranoid Marvin Boggs, perfectly cast in the person of John Malkovich. Marvin's talent: Shoot straight and see them coming. It helps to be a probable paranoid schizophrenic. The third compatriot to join this diverse band is Victoria, played by the venerable Helen Mirren. She is so charming and equally as deadly on the business end of a .50 caliber sniper's rifle. To accentuate the fact that Ms. Mirren was cast against type, in the fundraiser ballroom scene, she parked herself behind a .50 caliber machine gun wrapped in her gown and combat boots.
Toss into this eclectic mix, Frank's ex-adversary in the person of Ian Simanov, a former KGB agent played by the great character actor Brian Cox, and Frank's team is loaded, and primed to fire. Victoria and Ian have romantic past, but now they are hunted, and the crux of this timeless fable is kill or be killed.
High action films, such as "RED," are always at risk of becoming a boring exercise unless they can involve a credible story and interesting dialogue. While "RED's" incredible, incessant action sequences pushes this cinematic vehicle to the threshold of a live action 'toon, its excellent comedic dialogue keeps the audience in tune with some semblance of reality, and keeps us well engaged. Bruce Willis, who cut both his initial comedic and acting teeth in the ABC television classic "Moonlighting" in the mid 1980's, has never shrunk from playing some of his characters as over-the-top regular guys. Similar to "Moonlighting" series', with its strained romantic relationship between Bruce and Cybil Shepherd, "RED" uses the even more incredible relationship between Frank and Sarah Ross, played by Southern bred actress Mary-Lousie Parker. They meet under impossible circumstances, and the situation incredibly becomes even more strained to the point of improbability; however, the comedic script keeps the mood light enough to provide an audience sympathy to their situation, which keeps us somehow engaged. Bruce Willis is especially gifted in this medium at accomplishing this Herculean task.
Similarly, Bruce Willis's Frank Moses is the more intellectual, more reserved, but just as bold version of his John McClane character from the Die Hard series. Bruce Willis is the adhesive that holds this venerable ensemble cast intact, and keeps relentless action from becoming a overwhelming ingredient in what is surprisingly a very fine film, reminiscent, in some small way but more 'toon-like, of the classic "Pulp Fiction." Bruce Willis also had a small, but important role in "Pulp Fiction" as the broken-down fighter, Butch.
Bruce Willis performs this one scene with the great character actor Ernest Borgnine. Ernest turned 91 last year: Above. Bruce and Karl Urban have an earnest discussion: Below.
Like "Pulp Fiction," the dialogue is important, but also unlike the Quentin Tarrantino Classic, this Jon Hoeber / Erich Hoebe screenplay, based on the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, depends on a broader mix of the action to convey this fantastic story. In "Pulp Fiction," there were a plethora of antagonists to the point where one might consider there were almost none. In "RED," there is but one, and this rogue element with the CIA uses ambitious special agent William Cooper, played with resilient authority by New Zealander Karl Urban as the inflexible foil to project their separate ambitions to remain alive.
Director Robert Schwentke uses well all this incredible talent to build a fine film that is entertaining, fun, and pushes forward through a very fast 111 minutes that almost leaves one breathless. But not me. I'm in pretty good shape. Like Bruce Willis's Frank Moses, I'm not ready to die yet either.
Rated PG-13. Released in theaters October 15, 2010.