Rarely am I sold on a film from a single image. With Red, I have to admit I was convinced the second I saw a picture of a rather intense looking Helen Mirren aiming a mounted machine gun.
This is more or less the main idea behind the movie; it’s all about the novelty of seeing veteran actors Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Brian Cox running and gunning on screen – and as concepts go, it can’t be faulted for its potential. Bruce Willis is the lead – but he’s really just playing a more sedate John McClane, so seeing him in such a role isn’t quite so exciting. Willis is Frank Moses, one of these retired agents whose quiet life is turned upside down by a 3am attempt on his life in his own home. He escapes to Kansas City, where he (tantamount to) kidnaps his friend and love-interest Sarah (played rather finely by Weeds star Mary Louise Parker) in order to save her from a similar fate. Along the way, Moses gets together with his former team of trained killers to defend himself from the consistently pained looking CIA officer William Cooper (Karl Urban).
Despite the early potential of the storyline, in reality it proves to be difficult to follow much of the time, and before long it becomes hard to care about the plot progression at all. The characters, on the other hand, are a lot of fun. John Malkovich is hilarious as a retired assassin who was given daily doses of LSD for 11 years whilst in the CIA. His character is completely unhinged, and all the better for it because he is a real hoot to watch. At one point, as he escapes from his house, Malkovich grabs a stuffed cuddly pig. We later find out the pig, which Malkovich guards with his life, conceals a grenade launcher. Mirren, too, is brilliant as the sassy, and especially English, Victoria, and it is a real joy to see her in an action role.
My main complaint is that the film’s trump cards go massively underused. Mirren only appears on screen in the last hour, and Morgan Freeman gets less than fifteen minutes. If the storyline worked more effectively, perhaps it wouldn’t be so noticeable; instead, much of the film is dedicated to a less than thrilling adventure with Bruce Willis, and the main team only get reunited in the final act. It’s a real shame; as this is when the film really shines.
Red is worth a watch, but I wouldn’t suggest dashing to the cinema to see it, perhaps just a casual stroll to Blockbuster when it’s released on DVD. For me, I can’t help but feel disappointed; the script feels like it has squandered its potential.
Good: Funny at times, the action is good fun
Bad: The story is a mess which means the film feels overly long
5 out of 10.