“You Just Had Your Ass Handed to You by a Goddamned Retiree.” – Cynthia Wilkes
Loosely based on the comic book mini-series of the same name by Warren Ellis, RED, released in 2010, is a fast-paced and humourous action-comedy with an all-star cast of ageing actors and actresses. Yet, despite everything the film has going for it, RED never quite reaches the soaring heights of exhilaration most would expect to see from an action flick with a cast of this calibre. Still, at the very least, RED doesn’t just rely on its renowned performers to impress, as director Robert Schwentke (The Family Jewels, R.I.P.D., The Captain) integrates a sufficient amount of both style and wit into the adaptation.
Plot Summary: When his peaceful life becomes threatened by persistent attacks from squads of heavily armed, masked assailants. Former black-ops agent, Frank Moses, reassembles his old team of highly-trained assassins in a last-ditch effort to uncover who his assailants work for and why they are hunting him…
One of the few DC Comics properties not based around superheroes and/or supervillains. RED was surprisingly the first widely-released adaptation of a DC Comics series not produced by Warner Bros. Pictures, as Batman, released in 1966 by Twentieth Century Fox, was a spin-off from the television series. Whereas Superman, released in 1948 by Columbia Pictures, was technically a serial. These comic book roots factor into the film in a number of ways, some visual, some not. For instance, when it comes to the narrative, the pacing often seems unnecessarily quick, making the constant location-jumping of the characters feel overwhelming at points. On top of this, there is an abundance of scenes throughout RED that seem to serve little-to-no purpose, such as a moment in the opening montage of Frank’s day-to-day life where he positions Christmas decorations, implying the festive season will somehow play a part in the story. Yet, from that scene on Christmas isn’t even mentioned, so why is it there?
The leading component to the enjoyability of RED is undoubtedly its formerly mentioned cast and their respective characters. From Bruce Willis as the hard-boiled protagonist, Frank Moses, to Morgan Freeman as the capable yet cancer-ridden; Joe Matheson, along with John Malkovich and Helen Mirren as Marvin Boggs and Victoria, a paranoid nut-job and sophisticated assassin, respectfully. All of the characters that are part of the central team known as R.E.D. (an acronym for; “Retired and Extremely Dangerous”), are well-defined and sufficiently likeable. Outside of this primary team, however, some of the characters suffer from a lack of development. Most notably, William Cooper, portrayed by Karl Urban, a misguided CIA agent assigned the task of capturing Frank and his team. Frank’s love interest, Sarah Ross, portrayed by Mary-Louise Parker, is unfortunately just as bland, with her character arc of maturing from a fearful, reluctant companion to an adrenaline junkie relishing in her time beside Frank, being both corny and unbelievable.
Evidently inspired by the comic book mini-series it’s based upon, RED is generally rather creative with its visuals, implementing a considerable number of innovative shots that rotate around the characters as they perform various tasks. Nevertheless, the cinematography by Florian Ballhaus isn’t impeccable, as the film is frequently impaired by the jerky, hand-held style of camerawork that plagued many action sequences in the early 2010s. Furthermore, while I appreciate the attempt to add some flair to the visuals by integrating a string of imaginative location transitions, a few of these transitions come across as somewhat cheesy, particularly whenever they revolve around a screen-overspreading postcard.
In a quirky little detail, all of the tracks throughout RED‘s original score are titled to fit the acronym of R.E.D. Some of these titles include; Rotating Enforcement Device, Regular Easygoing Dudes and Rehash Every Detail. However, even when ignoring this minor detail, the original score by Christophe Beck is rather impressive, adding to the film’s appeal as a lively and stimulating guitar-led soundtrack that more than fits the quick-pacing and sharp wit seen throughout the rest of the runtime.
When it comes to the action sequences, it may surprise many to learn that RED largely spreads out its rousing set pieces. If truth be told, the film’s most interesting narrative decision is that every act feels different in its approach. The first act, for example, predominantly focuses on humour, whilst the second act takes on a more serious tone, and the third act bursts into an exhilarating display of discharged firearms and downed adversaries. That’s not to say that the first two acts don’t retain any of their own exciting moments, however, as they certainly do. Interestingly, actress Helen Mirren had to learn how to fire a gun without blinking to appear more like an experienced assassin in her action sequences. This is actually an issue that has troubled cast members of the action genre for years. In fact, blinking was one of the main reasons why the cast of The Matrix trilogy wore sunglasses, concealing their involuntary reactions.
In summary, whilst RED is an action-comedy endowed with prominent names, most will come away imbued with the reassuring thought that all of the cast left their egos at home to assemble something amusing and easily digestible. Although the film isn’t anything extraordinary and definitely has its fair share of flaws, RED does have some of the makings of an entertaining action-comedy, pleasing fanatics of the veteran actors/actresses whose names litter the film’s promotional material, especially. Rating: high 5/10.