Screen Time: ‘Red’ is a good idea but tries too hardPublished 8:53am Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Column: Screen Time
The premise probably looked good on paper.
Take a bunch of aging A-listers (Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Richard Dreyfuss) and have them poke fun of their own age in an action/comedy about former black-ops CIA agents forced back into the game. Start with a funny script, throw in good dramatic actors, and you should get a fairly entertaining end product.
But regrettably, “Red,” which released on DVD and Blu-ray last week, falls a little short of that potential — not an over-the-top comedy that really can’t be taken seriously, either.
The film “Red” is loosely based on a three-part comic book series of the same name, but other than the appearance of the D.C. Comics logo during the introductory credits, it was a little hard to tell. And aside from one or two comic book-esque fight scenes, there wasn’t much to tie it to its roots.
“Red” begins with Frank Moses (Willis) enjoying his retired life, living in suburbia and bonding over the phone with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), a customer service agent working in the office from which Moses receives his monthly pension. But after Moses escapes a hit by his former employer, the CIA, he is forced to snag Ross for her protection and seek the help of former colleagues and fellow retirees Marvin Boggs (Malkovich), Joe Matheson (Freeman) and Victoria (Mirren), who are all also on the CIA’s hit list. With the help of a former foe, Russian secret agent Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox), the gang tracks down those responsible for the hit on their lives, including Alexander Dunning (Dreyfuss) and the CIA agent in charge of the operation, William Cooper (Karl Urban).
We’re told RED is actually an acronym for Moses’ status with the CIA, “retired, but extremely dangerous,” a label we soon find out is appropriate, as Willis does what he does best. But his chemistry with Golden Globe-winner Parker (for her starring role on the television series “Weeds”), isn’t quite there, and an even bigger opportunity is lost as interaction between Willis, Freeman and Malkovich is limited.
One bright spot is Malkovich’s performance, as he pulls off “crazy” well; paranoid that someone is always after him, Boggs is always jumping out of hiding places ready for the kill. Mirren is good, too, as a CIA “wetwork” agent (assassin), an image that is comical in and of itself.
“Red” at times does show glimpses of promise, with well-placed humor (especially from Malkovich) as the plot develops. But somewhere along the way, writers Erich and Jon Hoeber decided to switch gears from comedy to semi-serious drama, and the result is a little jarring. “Red” could have been a good comedy but tries too hard to be a crime/action film and ends up in limbo somewhere in the middle.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, a “Red” sequel may be in the works, as the Hoeber brothers were rehired to begin work on a second film. Hopefully this one won’t try to be as serious, and make good on a surplus of unused opportunities.
Tribune Audience Manager Adam Harringa’s column appears every Wednesday.