I hate to sound like a disrespectful whippersnapper, but I’d begun to doubt the potential of action films starring actors of a certain age. The last movie to feature a fleet of pension-collecting heroes – The Expendables – was about as rollicking as a ride on a single-speed rascal, and had a screenplay messier than a bowl of mushy peas. By comparison, Robert Schwentke’s RED boasts a cast that makes Dolph Lundgren look like Justin Bieber. However, it’s an energetic action film with charm to spare. Stars Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich reveal themselves to be a more believable team of ass-kickers than The Expendables, The A-Team and The Losers combined. I guess they’ve been taking their Omega 3 tablets.
RED is based on Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner’s comic series of the same name. I’ve not read it, but I hear that the film excises much of the comic’s political commentary in favour of zany action sequences. I’ll leave it to the fans to tell me whether or not that’s a criminal offense. The madcap final product we are left with seems like a fine compromise. Bruce Willis stars as Frank Moses, a former CIA agent learning to be a retiree. He fills his days by flirting over the phone with customer service operator Sarah Roses (Mary-Louise Parker) and attempting to blend into the suburbs. He’s not very good at either.
Moses’ retirement is brought to an abrupt end after an assassination attempt by a mysterious hit squad. He gathers up the reluctant Sarah, who he (rightfully) believes is also in danger, and meets up with his fellow retired agents to figure out who’s trying to kill them. His ragtag ensemble includes the loyal Joe (Morgan Freeman), the unhinged Marvin (John Malkovich) and the classy, sultry Victoria (Helen Mirren). The film also features the immensely likable Brian Cox as a Russian spy and Karl Urban as a devoted company man sent to wipe out Moses’ crew.
RED is an efficient and expertly made flick, although it lacks a personal touch from director Robert Schwentke (say what you will about Zack Snyder, but he leaves an indelible print on his comic book adaptations). The film’s central mystery is intriguing enough, but really, we’re here to see this surprisingly sprightly cast bounce off one another. They offer echoes of the similarly lovable Ocean’s Eleven crew (albeit with a slightly higher median age).
I may have spent much of the review teasing the age of the actors, but I do so with love. The best part of RED is the way in which it trusts older actors (as in: older than Shia LaBeouf) to carry an action film. They approach their roles with dignity and grace, yet still carry themselves (and their weaponry) as you would expect any action hero to do. The film even goes to the effort of casting the 93-year-old Ernest Borgnine in a warm little role. He reminded me of Desmond Llewellyn’s Q from the Bond series; an actor who was later ousted by the (relative) youngster John Cleese in Die Another Day. Something about replacing Q didn’t feel right. After all, James Bond’s aren’t replaced when they become too old – they’re replaced when they stop being cool. Willis, Malkovich, Freeman, Mirren – and even Borgnine – are yet to jump that shark.
RED arrives in Australian cinemas October 28, 2010.