Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: RED

This might seem like the Helen Mirren pages, or the Helen Mirren love blog... not so. I just... admire her heartily.

RED = Retired Extremely Dangerous.

Damn, I want my file to have that phrase stamped across it (in red ink) when I... can I retire? Ever? Oh, well.

Wow, did I think this movie was worth seeing. A friend and I went to a Saturday matinee, and all people "of our experience" were there--meaning no one under 30. She and I laughed out loud throughout the movie, from the first shoot 'em up attack to the final coup de grace. (I will admit, we were the only people laughing out loud, so loud... ???)

RED is what a comic book movie should be: witty, fast-paced, full of explosions and gunfire that are totally and completely fake (and therefore satisfying!), with well-directed action sequences and stand-up characters full of piss and vinegar. ($58M gross... and $15M must have been spent on bullets! Oh, you'll see!)

Bruce Willis's character is both wry and lethal, as a man retired from active duty as one of the world's deadliest men. O-kay. How do you retire from that job? Apparently, to Cleveland, in a two-story frame house, in a PTA neighborhood. And they still find you! His romance with Mary Louise Parker is intelligent, funny, and sweet. Willis has always been a better actor than credited, especially throughout the 80s and 90s string of weak/strong comedies (including Moonlighting); I first remember him as a wife-beating drug dealer in Miami Vice... and he was terrifying and powerful. Now that his "youth" is over he has settled into a more nuanced, more complex, and more human set of characters... in action films. Yes, in action films. But he looks good.

Parker is delightful as the civil servant gone radical girlfriend; she is one of the best actors we have and gets too little credit. I hope she made a pile of money in Weeds and can now choose her projects with absolute care. (Side note: she does need to eat a few baked potatoes and fudge sundaes, just to cushion her bones in the action sequences. Ouch!)

In turn, they add in John Malkovich (who should earn an Oscar for this role), Morgan Freeman, Richard Dreyfus (so tan his veneers glow!), Brian Fox (Russian KGB, chewing the scenery as ever), and Dame Helen, who is an ex-wet works specialist now running a lovely B&B in the Virginia countryside.

Of course.

Karl Urban plays the young G-man sent to kill Willis. Boy, is he (Urban) in for a surprise!

The plot could be twistier. We figure out early that someone wants these geezers (!) killed and then, still quickly, who it is and why... and then there's one one twist left twisted to the end. The point, of course, is to see the ensemble in action as actors and colleagues. Willis, Parker, and Malkovich are the best, with the richest parts and the best byplay; Willis plays the anchor and Malkovich is the paranoid nutball who's tried to kill him more than once. See it only for the pig--I won't explain, just go and wait for it. Mirren and Fox have an old romance that lights up... but apparently Mirren's assassin was the love object of many men's long ago fantasies...

Of course.

The dialogue is funny, smart, and well-paced. Freeman and Rebecca Pidgeon are the least skillful with it (I see in her bio that husband David Mamet wrote the part in Oleanna for her. Ew). The interactions between Willis and Parker, or Willis and Malkovich are fine. The fight scene between Willis and Urban in Urban's office--hilarious and on target. The secondary love story betwen Mirren and Fox needed more attention (both in the writing and in the direction), but there are lovely moments--you are able to see two wonderful actors working less-than-great dialogue and cliched situations into something much, much better.

RED is the perfect distraction, and the catharsis of things blowing up will make you feel better. No 20-somethings, no perfect bodies, no ridiculous texting.

For Willis, this is what movies like Hudson Hawk or The Whole Nine Yards should have been: showcases for an actor who is more than a smart-ass wisecracker from Jersey. A film with class. The actor's confidence and ability are strong here, and he has surrounded himself with top-notch, grade-A talent, within which he can be the anchor and the straight man. I assume he had some creative control (who are we kidding? All of the creatve control.). RED is an adult action film, made by adults for adults... not 16-year-old boys. It is even smarter and funnier than Ocean's Eleven, which was pretty smart. And funny.

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