Contrary to my local newspaper’s Arts & Entertainment page, RED is not a graphic novel about a government hitman who investigates the disappearance of his friends. As far as the illustrated Frank Moses is concerned, he has none. Most characters portrayed in the movie adaptation were written specifically for the film. Also: not a graphic novel. It was released as three single, standard-sized comicbooks. A graphic novel is a singular book sold at a size longer than a comic. It is not a designation for comics that aren’t shit.
So a former wetworks operative has a flirtatious telephone conversation with the girl who processes his retirement checks and that’s almost everything borrowed from the original source material. You probably think I’m gonna spout off a rant about how this film totally missed the point of the book, but I’m not. Why? Because the book didn’t have a point. It was literally just a bald guy stabbing people in the ear because they were between him and the men who ordered his execution.
Had Warren Ellis’s name been removed from the credits, I would never have guessed it was adapted from his comic writing. RED, instead, made its own bed (ok, I’ll stop) and then sleeps in it. No frame for frame, word-for-word ever attempted. Even the borrowed lines are re-written. In this above all, I applaud the movie. Too often lately these things take the safe direct-replication route for fear of alienating the established fanbase. This film takes a chance, starts from scratch, curiously credits the inspiration, and then fumbles with incomprehensibly terrible dialogue. Yeah, so not the savvy blockbuster I was hoping for but it does have merit.
For one thing, Mary-Louise Parker is having fun, which means I’m having fun. Her character is abducted by Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) for her own safety but soon revels in the same absurdity we can’t believe as an audience. The woman looks about a decade younger than she is, too. That helps even before she stands next to Ernest Borgnine.
Their first phone-line exchange holds promise for a sweet, affected second chance for both their lives. It’s woven between some Fight Club style camerawork, and then those two distinctly separate expressions are thrown away, never to be seen again. It’s a shame when the film is played out as an ensemble action-comedy because the question it asks is “Will these two come together?” The occasional forced dialogue reminds us that this is their first date, but they rarely share screen time together, and almost never look at each other during these moments.
The trade favors a begs-to-be hip travel blog by capable old timers reliving the glory days of better action films. Each city and designated geriatric is lazily introduced, as if they quietly joined the group on stage. There’s Morgan Freeman, who fills plot holes neatly without much personality of his own, John Malkovich in charge of prop humor, Ernest Borgnine (still alive), Helen Munitions Mirren, Brian Cox, always where he needs to be, a sniveling Richard Dreyfuss, terminator Karl Urban, and Rebecca Pidgeon speaking words that weren’t written by her husband, perhaps for the first time since birth.
They’re all meant to come together as a Chili Palmer personality gag that never comes to fruition, and with all the juggling, there’s never enough time to justify Bruce Willis as the lead actor. Since he was inevitably shuffled into the deck, the movie should have focused on the humor of unarmed Mary Louise-Parker’s reactions each time a new card is drawn.
But the others have their talented thespian moments, if only to compensate for a bad script. Malkovich is expectedly entertaining as an LSD addled paranoid and Karl Urban seems genuinely baffled at the events he’s in charge of cleaning up. Shining bright above all is Helen Mirren and Brian Cox, as former adversaries falling back into love. These two aren’t even introduced until the final act, but share more spark between them than offered by any of the full length over-the-hill romance movies that are presently being mass marketed to the same baby boomer generation populating this cast. That includes any that Meryl Streep might have been double-nominated for.
RED is a collection of neat looking board game pieces. They draw you in, but eventually the rules will be read and it will become clear that this isn’t going to be much fun. You’ll buy your ticket and your popcorn because that’s what people do. You’ll give them your money because watching a grenade get batted back at assailants is all you ever demanded of a Friday night.
I wonder how Warren Ellis feels about it, though. He appeared at the Comic-con panel in full support but would never write anything where the sharpest insult is “Grandpa.” My concern is that people will actually think they’ve seen a satisfying film, then forget about it fifteen minutes later.
Overall Score: 6.65 – Okay. (6s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 6s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.)
To quote Ellis, “If anyone gave two tugs of a dead dog’s cock about Truth, this wouldn’t be happening.”
Overall Score: 7.50 — RED is an action-comedy that doesn’t fully excel at either its action or its comedy. However, it remains a thoroughly entertaining film largely due to the strength of its cast and the enjoyment the audience derives from watching them cause such ridiculous chaos. Read his full review here.
Overall Score: 7.70 — RED is just a damn fun movie. Maybe it was seeing John Malkovich hold a gun to an airport patron he believed to be a spy, or maybe it was seeing Queen Elizabeth II herself, Helen Mirren, taking out dudes with a machine gun, but either way I had a smile on my face the whole time. Read his full review here.