If The Expendables had good actors, it would be RED
If The Expendables starred actors who were actually known for their acting abilities instead of their muscles, it would feature Bruce Willis, Karl Urban, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren. It would still contain a lot of bullets and one-liners, but overall, would be like a high-quality version of The A-Team. The new film Red, based on the comic book mini-series of the same name, is that film.
Willis stars as Frank Moses, a retired super CIA agent who’s socially isolated. His only real human contact is with Sarah (Mary Louise Parker) a customer service agent at the pension office miles away. One night, Frank is attacked by a squad of government hit men and journeys to Kansas City to find Sarah, fearing that his phone has been tapped and Sarah could be in danger for talking to him. He lovingly kidnaps her and takes her with him as he unravels clues about his assassination attempt. At the same time, younger CIA agent Cooper (Urban) is tasked with tracking down and killing our Retired Extremely Dangerous rebel agent.
Along the way, Frank rounds up the old gang to help him get answers and stop the people trying to kill him. First, he visits Joe (Freeman), who helps him connect his failed assassination to a murdered reporter. Next is Marvin (humorously insane Malkovich), the victim of government LSD testing, who tells him that the people on the hit list were connected to a secret mission in Guatemala. This leads them to Victoria (Mirren), a former sniper who’s living a quiet life in the country. With his old crew back together, Frank travels around finding pieces to the big puzzle and eventually getting to the bottom of things.
The film uses that classic action movie formula outlined by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as The Looks, The Brains, The Muscle, The Wild Card and the Useless Chick with each character taking on one of the distinct rolls. While the comic took a more serious tone, the movie version of Red is more comedic, with each character dishing out a funny line after gunning down a squad of assassins or foiling an enemy’s plot. Like The Expendables, which coincidentally also featured Willis, these old dogs have a few tricks that their younger counterparts can’t overcome. Thankfully, unlike The Expendables, this film also has a plot and actors that can make even the most generic action movie dialogue seem fun. Mirren, in particular, stands out for her delicate English behavior as a retired agent contrasted with her calculated violence when the going gets tough for the gang.
It seems like Red could have taken a Usual Suspects turn, building tension with the mystery and utilizing more subtle violence to get the point across. Many comic books are violent, but Hollywood seems to think that, if a film is based on a comic, it should have over-exaggerated violence which takes a higher priority than the story itself.
Red can suffer from Action Movie Syndrome, filling the scenes with explosions and spraying bullets in lieu of major story telling. Sure, there’s a plot, but unraveling Frank’s mystery seems secondary to the action. The major saving grace is the cast, because without actors of that caliber (no pun intended), this could have been just another bullet-heavy revenge movie.