1 hour, 51 minutes
OK, last week I said I didn't want to see John Malkovich playing it goofy. I should have clarified. What I meant to say was that I didn't want to see John Malkovich playing it goofy in a Disney movie about a horse. This week, Malkovich played it goofy in an action movie with Bruce Willis. That, I'm OK with.
"RED," which stars Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker, Karl Urban, and Helen Mirren, as well as Malkovich and Willis, is a blast. The title, an acronym which stands for "Retired and Extremely Dangerous" refers to Willis as Frank Moses, an ex-CIA agent whose career was legendary but who now lives a quiet life on a fixed income in suburbia. The most excitement he gets is calling his pension claims office in Kansas City to complain that his retirement check hasn't arrived. He does this frequently, but it's a ruse. He really just wants to talk to Mary-Louis Parker's Sarah, a claims adjuster on whom Frank has a secret crush. This mild-mannered existence all comes crashing down one evening however, when an assassination team arrives on Frank's doorstep. The next thing he knows he's on the run, with a confused and angry Sarah in tow, looking to reunite with his old partners, RED one and all, in an attempt to find out who's trying to kill him, and why.
The premise, a kind of "Grumpy Old Men" meets "Die Hard" sounds pretty stupid, but luckily the screenwriter doesn't lean too hard on the "over the hill" jokes. Instead the film is wall-to-wall action, expertly shot and staged, peppered with some very funny moments. Most of the latter belongs to Malkovich's Marvin Boggs, a paranoid nutcase who was subjected to mind-control experiments for years during his CIA tenure. Malkovich steals every scene he's in, and that's saying something considering the cast.
Also very good are Willis and his younger counterpart, Urban, who you may remember from the "Lord of the Rings" movies. I can't remember his character's name in LOTR, something with a lot of vowels, but he was the big, blond, horse-riding guy. Here he's significantly smaller-scale, but proves he's got the skills to stand up to an action-vet like Bruce. Helen Mirren is lovely and elegant as always, and is a good enough actress that she never feels out of place, even behind a high-powered sniper rifle. I also have to commend Willis on his softer-side acting in this film. His scenes with Parker are awkward and sweet, as well as funny. The only character who doesn't really stand out is Freeman, and that's not a critique of his acting, just that his character doesn't have much to do besides be the buddy.
I've been comparing this movie in my mind to this summer's "The Expendables," mostly in relation to how much more I enjoyed "RED." "Expendables" is a throw-back to the action movies of the 80s, and while I can understand feeling nostalgic for the high-octane films of our youth, I don't know why we'd need to recreate them. The 1980s were, broadly, a time of surface flash and very little substance. The reason we don't really make those movies anymore, or that they're not wildly successful, is that we've matured somewhat as a society.
That's not to say that "RED" is going to be mistaken for Shakespeare -- the underlying plot is, admittedly, clunky and confusing, and it's never entirely clear why the CIA wants Frank Moses dead. But at least where "Expendables" was big, dumb, and silly, "RED" is just big and silly, and contains a few iconic scenes, destined to be on the actors' clip reels forever. Those would be the arresting image of Mirren in a lovely white evening dress, casually blasting away with a 50-caliber machine gun, and Malkovich's Marvin running screaming down the street strapped with dynamite and a big Flava-Flav style clock. I'll take that over grotesquely muscled Stallone or Mickey Rourke's weeping tattooist any day.
"RED" is rated PG-13 for language and strong violence.
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One post-script: Really? "Jackass 3D" is No. 1 at the box-office? Seriously? And not only that, it sets the record for biggest October opening ever? Fifty million dollars?! C'mon! I thought we were over these middle-aged adolescents and their obnoxious "stunts" years ago. And I can't even be accused of not "getting it" because I haven't seen the movie. They lay it all out right there in the title. "Jackass!" That pretty much says all I need to know. Sigh. I mean, "RED's" not going to be winning any awards, but at least it's moderately clever. Maybe if Helen Mirren had played tetherball with an angry beehive at one point, her movie too could have been No. 1.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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