By Ben Garfinkel
“I didn’t even know that this place existed,” says retired CIA agent Frank Moses (played by Bruce Willis) as he follows Henry the records keeper (Ernest Borgnine) into a high-security file room. “It doesn’t”, Henry candidly responds in a tone straight out of a James Bond movie. It’s scenes like these that give RED, directed by Robert Schwentke, its tongue-and-cheek charm. Drawing on films such as The Bourne Identity and Die Hard, as well as TV shows like The A-Team, RED does not bring much new to the table but still delivers in campy explosions, humorous dialogue, and a terrific cast.
It is clear from the beginning that RED (stands for Retired and Dangerous) had never been conceived as a serious action thriller. As Moses converses with his long-distance love interest Sarah (Mary-Louis Parker of Weeds), a pension office customer service agent from Kansas City, it seems like the story is unfolding into more of a romantic comedy than anything else. Nevertheless, after Moses survives a government-sanctioned assassination attempt, he escapes and flies to Kansas City to protect Sarah in fear that their phone conversations were tapped (they were). Meeting up with his old mentor Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), paranoid conspiracy theorist friend Marvin (John Malkovitch), and former wetwork agent Victoria (Helen Mirren) along the way, Moses fights to unravel a conspiracy involving the CIA, the vice president, and a certain dubious private defense contractor (played by Richard Dreyfuss). While the actors are individually talented, it seems Schwentke may have overvalued the charm of watching old people doing things they usually don’t do.
If there is one thing that Schwentke loves more than generic spy flick plots, it’s explosions and gunfire. This would be excusable, but almost no one dies on either side no matter how many guns are involved, making the firefights almost exclusively filler content for the boring drama happening in between. While a character or two does get shot at points in the movie, most of the deaths occur in scenes involving grenade launchers and slow motion bullet-time shots reminiscent of The Matrix. The silliness gets annoying at points, but is still mildly entertaining if not taken too seriously.
If there is one thing that shines about RED, it is the cast. Never before has a film audience been able to enjoy John Malkovitch as he plays off the stoic Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman. And who wouldn’t want to see Helen Mirren pick off soldiers with a sniper rifle? In the end, RED amounts to a well-intentioned action comedy that would fair a lot worse without its talented cast.