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'Red' Movie Review

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


Helen Mirren and John Malkovich in Red

Helen Mirren and John Malkovich in 'Red.'

© Summit Entertainment
Red stands for retired, extremely dangerous but it could just as well stand for 'really enjoyable diversion'. Jam-packed with big name actors who aren't exactly spring chickens, Red is more of a thinking man/woman's The Expendables, a film it will be constantly compared to mainly due to the fact they're both action films with older casts. Red's better scripted and has more humor (and romance), but what Red really has that The Expendables can't match is two strong female leads who don't normally make a living in action films. The tag team of Helen Mirren and Mary-Louise Parker is unbeatable, with Dame Mirren showing serious chops as an action hero and Parker playing the outsider who's totally captivated by the dangerous antics of Bruce Willis and crew.
Red's not going to get points for originality; we've seen 'retired hitmen/agents/bodyguards/fill in the blank with anyone who handled a gun as part of their job films' before. However, Red does succeed where other films of its ilk have failed by never playing sloppy with the story, even during its most over-the-top action scenes. Plus, Red's just plain fun. Another big point in it's favor is that it's not aimed just at drawing in teens and young adults as so many action films are. This is an action comedy that should pull in older audiences and even, believe it or not, could be considered a decent date movie.

The Story

Ex-CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) isn't adjusting well to retirement. He's completely bored, and the only bright spots in his otherwise dull days is when he calls Sarah (Parker) to complain about his missing retirement check. The missing check is just a ruse as he really wants someone - preferably female - to talk to. Soon the two are setting up a face-to-face meeting which Frank is absolutely delighted about. But his dream of a nice evening with the friendly Sarah is dashed after his home is riddled with bullets by a squad of hitmen. One thing leads to another and soon he's holding Sarah against her will in attempt to save her life - which is definitely not anyone's idea of a good first date.
Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker in Red

Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker in 'Red.'

© Summit Entertainment
So now Frank's forced out of retirement - not that he minds - and forced into seeking out his old (as in also retired) buddies from the CIA. Joe (Morgan Freeman) lives in a retirement home and seems to have adjusted relatively well. Victoria (Mirren) looks completely comfortable in her gorgeous home, arranging flowers and carrying on as though she's embraced retirement. But looks are deceiving as she's taking 'odd jobs' on the side that have nothing to do with putting together pretty floral arrangements. And Marvin (John Malkovich) is a loony conspiracy theorist who was given LSD on a daily basis while he was still in the CIA. Together they must figure out why they're being targeted by killers. And to complicate matters, a rising star in the CIA, William Cooper (Karl Urban, the youngster of the lead cast and the guy who gets to engage in hand-to-hand combat with Willis in one of the film's best action scenes), would like nothing better than to bring in Frank and his reactivated sidekicks.

The Bottom Line

Bruce Willis hasn't been given material this solid to work with in years. At 55, he's still got the ability to handle physically demanding stunts which he does a lot of extremely well in Red. Willis full-on attacks the physical part of his job, but successfully reins himself in for the quieter moments. And he's got real chemistry with Parker who brightens up the film and lightens up the mood whenever she's onscreen. John Malkovich, as a paranoid ex-agent who lugs around a pink stuffed pig, is also back in the game after a few missteps. [Can we just agree to forget Jonah Hex exists?]

As for the action itself, director Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler's Wife) handles it well, even throwing in a spectacular stunt involving Bruce Willis exiting from a spinning car. I've never seen anything like it before but you can bet it will inspire other action directors to try similar stunts. And what's also impressive about the action scenes in Red is that this veteran cast isn't asked to do ridiculous stunts the audience would never believe this older group would be able to handle.

John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis in Red

John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis in Red

© Summit Entertainment
Screenwriting siblings Jon and Erich Hoeber do a terrific job of balancing the lead characters, although Morgan Freeman gets the short end of the stick when it comes to screen time. The Hoebers deliver a clever script with lots of fun interplay between the lead characters to fill the gaps in between action sequences. Our heroes have a shared history of working together in stressful times, and that comes through when the characters are placed in dangerous situations and must depend on one another to come out alive.

Fast-paced, well acted, and entertaining, Red's got a lot going for it. But at the top of the list of reasons to recommend seeing it has to be Dame Helen Mirren. 65 year old four-time Oscar nominee/one-time winner Helen Mirren carries a big gun and plows down bad guys as though she's been handling automatic weapons all of her life. That alone makes Red worth the price of a ticket.


Red was directed by Robert Schwentke and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language.

Theatrical Release: October 15, 2010

This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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