There’s something that doesn’t quite work in an action/comedy about a bunch of aging ex-CIA agents get forced out of retirement when they discover that they’ve made someone’s hit list… when their leader is Bruce Willis. Sure, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren may be delightfully off-the-wall casting choices for action heroes, but Willis is currently still making straight action movies without a hint of self awareness (think Die Hard 4.0 or Surrogates). Thus, trying to convince me that it’s surprising to see this ‘over the hill’ man in action mode is quite a difficult task.

I haven’t really fleshed out the plot of Red for you because basically there isn’t much to go around. In fact, it is a terribly unambitious film.Red Sure, we get to see Helen Mirren fire automatic weapons, but if you’re looking for something more than that, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

I haven’t read Warren Ellis’ comic, but have read a lot of his other works (‘Planetary’, ‘Fell’, ‘Transmetropolitan’, the relevant ‘Hellblazer’ works, among others) and thus am very familiar with his style. As such, Red doesn’t really feel like Ellis’ creation, except perhaps for John Malkovich’s portrayal of the cantankerous and mildly insane Marvin Briggs, which is spot on. In fact, Malkovich’s performance is the only truly brilliant one of the lot, which is saying a lot when you consider exactly who makes up the ensemble.

Bruce Willis is his usual action hero type here – namely, smirking and bald. Mary Louise Parker is good, though it feels as if her character of Sarah was written for someone younger. Unfortunately she also doesn’t get to do much but provide comic relief. It’s great to see Richard Dreyfuss in a non-Piranha role, whilst the ubiquitous Karl Urban continues being the Most Commonly Seen Actor in Action Movies.

The action has its moments (trailer moments, mostly), though there’s always an awkward shift in gear between the big budget hero shots and the witty banter that comprises the rest of the film – almost as if two directors were at work. The editing isn’t too rapid-fire, however, which is something I’m sure Mark would appreciate. The violence in Red feels deliberately toned down, however. Despite all the bullets flying, there are very few deaths – to the extent that it is distracting. You see, apparently only foreigners are allowed to die in films like this – the only actual deaths are relegated to balaclava-clad black ops people from places like South Africa.

Red is a bit of mindless fun, and certainly the cast seem to be enjoying themselves. This doesn’t even compare to the wonderful Kick-Ass, however, in the playful-take-on-action-movie stakes. Director Robert Schwentke clearly has a habit of playing it safe in Hollywood (if The Time Traveller’s Wife and Flightplan are anything to go by) and he’s definitely not breaking any rules here.

Rating: 3.0 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 27th October 2010
Hoopla Factor: 3.0 stars

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