It’s hard to have more fun than to watch great actors have a great time on screen. Though the new action flick Red might not offer much in the way of plot, it showcases an unbeatable cast of seasoned actors who prove that they’ve still got it.
Retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) struggles with his only recently normal life, until a team of assassins invades his home in the middle of the night. After skillfully killing them all, he escapes to the home of Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a receptionist with whom he has been flirting over the phone and who he believes could also be in danger.
Frank takes the initially unwilling Sarah with him as he assembles a team of fellow retirees, played by John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, to figure out who is trying to kill him.
In the meantime, Frank is pursued by a cold, younger agent, William Cooper (Karl Urban). In the midst of car chases and a lot of shooting, the agents all get caught up in a political conspiracy to cover up government war crimes. But that’s not really important here.
What is important is the ease with which the fantastic cast elevates its run-of-the-mill action comedy into something utterly enjoyable. Ignore the overly complex, meandering political plotline and focus on the perfect chemistry between the four retirees.
For the most part, director Robert Schwentke successfully diverts audience attention from the somewhat incoherent storyline with fast-paced action and winning jokes. Only a few moments at the end get a little plot-heavy, causing Red to briefly lose some of its charm.
Fortunately, the audience is too won over by the actors to care. Smoothly stepping out of a spinning car and taking on an agent half his age, Willis proves that he is just as intense as he was in Die Hard more than 20 years ago.
And despite the tough exterior, he is just as good at being “gooey on the inside,” as Mirren’s character Victoria describes Frank. When Frank tells Sarah, “Your eyes are so beautiful” as he tapes her mouth shut to keep her from screaming, his genuine affection for her is adorable in the funniest possible way.
Freeman, the oldest and gentlest of the group, is just so undeniably lovable that the audience is instantly and loyally on his side.
Malkovich, playing the paranoid Marvin, gets by far the most laughs in the film, turning what could be corny one-liners into quirky, hysterical quips. Malkovich has been at his best recently when playing a crazy person, and he manages to subtly steal every scene as Marvin.
And what could be better than watching the eternally classy Mirren, resplendent in a long white gown, trying to kill people with a machine gun? Her performance is effortless and commands attention. And as Victoria explains what she sacrificed for her work, Mirren brings as much depth as possible to a movie with so little substance.
Really, these actors can do no wrong, and they are consistently a joy to watch.
The rest of the cast ably supports the stars and the story. As Sarah, Parker is charming and vivacious, but she doesn’t always fit into the chemistry created by the older actors, with whom she shares practically all of her scenes, and some of her cheesier lines fall flat. Urban, as Cooper, proves a worthy foe and straight man for Willis, exuding a power and energy that makes the audience want to watch him. When the plot gets a too involved and overdramatic, Urban steps up his performance, making Cooper more sympathetic and dynamic without slipping into melodrama.
Brian Cox adds a nice touch to the group as a former Russian spy, and perhaps the only character to rival his love interest, Mirren, in class. Hollywood’s elder statesman Ernest Borgnine makes an amusing cameo as the CIA Records Keeper, representing a generation of actors that came well before Freeman and the rest.
Red is an adrenaline rush, a sweet romance, and an all-around good time. The movie is more fun than anything else, but director and actors alike embrace that fact and obviously enjoy themselves in doing so. And fortunately, Willis, Freeman, Mirren and Malkovich are all so talented that when they have fun, so does the audience.
As the Records Keeper says, “They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.”