Red: Maybe Not the Best, But Surely the Classiest Comic-book Movie.
Classiest. Comic. Book. Movie. Ever.
Not the best. Just the classiest—Helen Mirren (and Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich and Brian Cox and Richard Dreyfuss) can spruce up any pulp. As far as comic-book adaptations go, though, Red is a little closer to the bright side of so-so—somewhere between, let's say, Iron Man 2 and Ghost World on the patented Fanboy-oh-boyometer.
Based on a Warren Ellis three-issue toss-off, Red barely acknowledges its roots. The original—a straight-ahead tale about a retired Company hit man named Frank Moses next on the CIA's to-do list because he's an embarrassing relic—was bloody and humorless, with Frank eventually storming Langley and gutting all comers.
And the film version is absolutely enjoyable. Nothing wrong with an affable movie about trained killers played by Oscar winners on paid vacation. It's only afterward when you realize nothing actually happened. Plot's hardly the point here—Red's a travelogue, its map to the finish line pockmarked with the occasional explosion as Frank tries to figure out why he, a retired agent, has rocketed to the top of the agency's to-hit list.
Bruce Willis plays Frank, ex-CIA now living in suburban Cleveland. Willis doesn't have the deep-felt sadness of the comic's grizzled eccentric who just wishes to be left alone; his Frank is more John McClane in early retirement. When the bloodthirsty Men in Black come calling at 3:30 a.m., Frank's awake and ready for them.
And so Frank begins his trudge across America to get the band back together and find out what the what is going on. First stop Kansas City, home of the government retirement-check-sending drone Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), with whom Frank's had a longtime phone relationship. Next the movie pit-stops in a New Orleans retirement home, where Morgan Freeman's Joe spends his time ogling nurses' asses as they adjust the TV antenna.
In Florida, Willis and Parker find Malkovich—an acid-damaged short fuse—living in an underground bunker accessible through a dead car's trunk. In D.C. they find Cox's retired Russian spy Ivan (of course), shooting vodka (of course) while reminiscing about the Cold War.
From there it's off to Virginia and CIA HQ. Frank figures the only way to find out why the Company's trying to kill him is to break in and, well, ask. The answer? Something to do with Guatemala in 1981. It all ends with a Big Finish in Chicago, involving the vice-president, a hotel speaking engagement and what may or may not be an assassination attempt featuring Mirren, a .50-caliber machine gun and Malkovich sprinting down an alley at top speed with a Flavor Flav clock and some dynamite strapped to his chest.
This isn't an old-fogies Ocean's Eleven; it takes a good long while for the old gang to get back together. It's a comic-book movie, all right. Heavy emphasis on "comic."
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.