Red Review

poster from the Summit Entertainment film Red

If you believe Hollywood, there are two ways to handle getting old. The first is to pretend you haven’t and the second is to be proud of it. Movies like Red (which, ironically, is directed by Robert Schwentke, who is only 42) are what you get when Hollywood denizens choose option B. It’s the “lets not lose touch with reality” approach to aging, and it’s why I’ve been looking forward to the release of Red, which is about what happens when you pit age and experience against youthful ambition.

A retired CIA agent hooks up with his old team to fight back when younger agents from the CIA come looking to kill him.

I suspect that studios are watching Red closely to see if there’s any money in action movies starring old fogies. So the success or failure of this movie could actually determine what sorts of jobs older Hollywood actors might have open to them in the future. I don’t know about anyone else, but my reaction to this new “geriaction” genre is: more please!


Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is the youngest of the merry band of retirees and the film’s main character. He’s living a boring life in suburbia at the beginning of the movie. His only relationship is with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) a bored call center agent in the pension services department, whom he regularly calls to chat about traveling and romance novels.

Frank and Sarah on the phone from the Summit Entertainment film Red

It’s cute, even if it’s a little hard to believe that Frank can call a call center and get the same person every time.

Unfortunately these calls spark someone’s suspicions and it’s not long before a mysterious someone dispatches CIA assassins to “take care” of Frank, despite the fact that the CIA isn’t supposed to operate domestically. How the CIA expected to explain pumping six million large caliber bullets into a suburban house, I don’t know.

the CIA wet team attacks Frank at his house from the Summit Entertainment film Red

REPORTER: So what happened here?
GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: Um, gang violence?

Frank, being pretty spry for an old guy (which I guess is okay since he’s not that old) handily dispatches them and nips off to Kansas City to grab Sarah and start calling in favors. Frank is a typical action hero (a typical Bruce Willis action hero to be more specific) apart from the fact that he’s got this thing against young upstarts.

Frank Moses with a gun from the Summit Entertainment film Red

Stop! Police!… I mean, retired CIA!

But Sarah is not typical (even though her name is) and that’s one of the reasons I like this movie so much. Usually in action/comedies the girl screams and freaks out for at least 30% of the movie before becoming an instant gun expert and joining the ass kicking team. Sarah’s different. Sarah’s life is boring. She wants more adventure. So when she gets it, her reactions are surprise (that the world of her romance novels has spilled over into reality), anger (at Frank for kidnapping her to save time), and excitement. She has emotions, but she doesn’t lose her head. I like her.

Sarah Ross sees a bullet from the Summit Entertainment film Red

A bullet. Oh dear. This is just like Love’s Savage Secret!

In fact, the characters are what make Red so enjoyable. There’s Joe (Morgan Freeman), who lives in a retirement home perving on nurses but harbors a secret predilection for deception and disguise.

Joe dressed as an African general from the Summit Entertainment film Red

Hello, I am an African dictator, and I would like to buy some guns.

Then there’s Marvin (John Malkovich). He was regularly fed LSD as part of an experiment and now he’s a nutjob living in the Louisiana backwoods dressing up as foliage and stalking helicopters.

Marvin dressed as a tree from the Summit Entertainment film Red

If you think he’s awesome, you should see his house

And then there’s Victoria (Helen Mirren), a proper British lady who lives in a large house and occupies her days with entertaining, flower arranging, and the occasional under-the-table contract killing.

Victoria and Marvin with the huge gun from the Summit Entertainment film Red

It’s like if they made the Queen a character in Modern Warfare 2

Unlike most action movies, the comedy comes from the characters’ unique perceptions and actions rather than witty dialogue the writers forced on them. Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, the screenwriters for Red, gave the characters their heads just to see what would happen. Of course, it helped that they didn’t have to create the characters themselves: Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner had already done that for the graphic novel. They kick in walls to avoid electronic locks, they play grenade baseball, they keep stealing everyone else’s uniforms. And it’s hilarious.

Marvin with a suicide bomb from the Summit Entertainment film Red

Yeeeearrrrgh I have a suicide bomb made out of a garish plastic children’s wall clock!

I guess I’m a traditionalist, because I love the low-techness of their spy tricks. I hate it when things get to easy. I wouldn’t throw out my cell phone, but I’d take a map and compass over a GPS unit and an interview over a brain scan, at least when it comes to spy movie plots. Salt kind of got the ball rolling on the return to old school spy tricks in movies, but there was no justification for Evelyn Salt’s lack of technology usage. It was modern times, she was young(ish), and she was working for the CIA. In Red, it makes sense because the characters are old. They were trained in the days before fancy gadgets. Their brains work differently, further outside of the box, than their tech trained successors, which explains why they so often get the drop on Agent Cooper (Karl Urban), who has to chase them.

Agent Cooper from the Summit Entertainment film Red

Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a CIA agent .

There’s a love story in amongst all this, of course, between Frank and Sarah, but Sarah’s not that young, and the writing’s not that gooey, so it’s not pervy or painful to watch. Actually, there are two love stories in this movie. Their old Russian adversary Ivan (Brian Cox), whom they turn to for help with their little CIA problem, also has a thing for Victoria.

Victoria and Ivan dancing from the Summit Entertainment film Red

And it’s cute!

So let’s take stock: complex plot? Check. Engaging characters? Check. Humor? Check. Unique action stunts? Check. And there you have it. Red is pretty much perfect. The only thing that really holds it back is the title, which tells you nothing about the movie and is an utterly generic internet search term (it stands for Retired: Extremely Dangerous). But I loved the movie anyway. So go see it if you like spy/action/comedies or you need to have a bit more respect for your elders.

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5 Responses to Red Review

Sandy Lacey
Commented:  18 October 2010 at 07:29()

I loved this movie! And I really loved Helen Mirren, which was a bonus because I mostly don’t care for her work. But she was great here. And Morgan Freeman is one of my all time favorites. He never disappoints.

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