To complete the pre-election backlog at last, Robert Schwentke’s by-the-numbers action-comedy Red, which I caught a few weeks ago at the Uptown, is…really forgettable. I mean it. It can’t have been more than a month ago since I saw this flick, and yet, even with its impressive A-list cast — hey, A-listers have mortgages too — Red already has that half-remembered did-I-watch-this-on-television haze about it in my mind.
For a dumb action-comedy, Red is neither particularly action-y nor particularly funny. (It is plenty dumb, tho’.) The film’s killer app — Helen Mirren as a badass assassin — doesn’t show up till halfway through the movie, and even then is criminally underutilized. It has one of the most annoyingly intrusive, jingly-jangly Oceans’ 11-wannabe scores this side of The Informant. It can never decide on a tone, and veers from broad, Naked Gun-style antics (see, for example, everything involving bazookas) to half-hearted stabs at being taken seriously. And, with the possible exception of Bruce Willis doing the hero-walk out of his moving car (to save you money, it’s at 1:40 in the trailer), there’s just very little to write home about here…or even on GitM about, for that matter.
But, write I must, so let’s take it to the synopsis: If you just watched the aforementioned trailer, you’re already basically up-to-speed. In brief, Frank Moses (Willis, on autopilot) is an ex-CIA spook who’s not handling retirement well. He spends his days tearing up his pension checks so he has an excuse to phone up the friendly and equally lonely cubicle-rat Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker, deserving better) — They make small talk about romance novels and avocadoes and whatnot. So far, so good. Red has an off-kilter feel to it at first that seems like it might be going somewhere. Unfortunately, we’re only maybe six or seven minutes into the film, and then the bullets start raining down like a hailstorm of stupid.
Y’see, a crack team of assassins have been sent to kill Frank in the dead of night for some reason, and they end up firing so much lead into his Cleveland home that the entire structure comes tumbling down. (Wouldn’t this draw unwanted attention to your ostensibly black-ops hit? Oh, whatever.) Frank, of course, survives this demolishing unscathed. And after abducting his new friend Sarah (shades of Knight & Day here — no better way to win a lady’s heart, apparently, than by absconding with her against her will), he decides to get the old “Retired: Extremely Dangerous” band back together to figure out why he’s been targeted.
And why is that, exactly? Well, long and boring story, really, but it has something to do with an old mission in Guatemala where the current vice-president (Julian McMahon, feeling as TVish here as he did in Fantastic Four) kinda sorta lost his mind and started shooting up the place. More important for our purposes is the band in question — Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mirren, and Brian Cox. That’s a pretty solid traveling troupe if you’re looking to do some actorly jamming for a few hours, and particularly when you have occasional fun special guests like Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfuss (who’s basically reprising his role from W) waiting in the wings.
Only problem is, it doesn’t play out like that. Freeman seems bored, and you can’t really blame him when the only thing the script calls for him to do is [spoiler] give a Shawshank-y farewell speech and die…twice. Meanwhile, Malkovich, playing an ex-agent who was dosed with LSD for decades, goes Method: He skips right over funny and lands on the creepy, off-putting-homeless-guy side of crazy. (As far as Malkovichian CIA romps go, I prefer Burn after Reading.) Mirren, as I said, is underused. And Brian Cox…well, Cox can be a very good actor (Manhunter, The 25th Hour) or, when in it for the paycheck, an absolute, William Hurt-like hambone. (The Ring, Troy.) As a vodka-swilling, back-slapping, overly-emotional ex-KGB kingpin, guess what he’s like here? When you’re even in spitting distance of out-hamming Dreyfuss in a motion picture these days, that’s no mean feat.
Oh yeah, Karl Urban (still channeling Bones from Star Trek) is skulking around in this too, as the Agency’s muscle. He’s ok, I suppose — He gets his hat handed to him by Bruce Willis decently well. But his entire character arc is laid out the first time he looks askance at his sinister, take-no-guff handler (Rebecca Pidgeon), so there’s a lot of waiting around for his inevitable crisis of conscience to take hold. In the meantime, there’re a lot of explosions and bullets and stuff, all set to that godawful, its-ok-you-can-laugh-now score.
In the end, Red is slow-witted, dull, nonsensical, and even a bit sadistic — drink every time someone gets abducted, tied up, beaten up, or interrogated. But, more than anything it’s just…forgettable. Who knows? Maybe the CIA has been hard at work on a nefarious plot to redact Red from my brain. If so, I salute them.