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RED (2010)

by on 2012/04/16

“Old man, my ass!”

* * * *

Great movie.

Great, great, great.

Go see it.

The end.

Still there?

Look, I’m cutting to the chase because — if you’re anything like me — you may be introduced to RED by a whole-scene preview, and you may not enjoy it very much.

On one of my rare outings to an honest-to-goodness theatre, two or three years ago, the aforementioned segment showed in place of a traditional trailer. It involved two characters, played by Karl Urban (from Lord of the Rings, among many) and Bruce Willis (oh, let’s just narrow it down to the Die Hards, shall we?). The two of them, confined in a small room, begin with an interrogation, and devolve to a violent fight.

Somehow, it struck me as . . . well, it didn’t actually. It didn’t strike me at all. And, you know what? Spoiler alert, I suppose, but it didn’t get better in context.

Fortunately, that context is hilarious, smart, and ass-kickingly good.

Set around the Christmas season, we meet our first “RED” member immediately. Retired, but still Extremely Dangerous, Willis stars as Frank Moses, a wannabe suburbanite with a crush on a claims operator (Weeds’ Mary-Louise Parker). Unfortunately, his past life as a CIA “analyst” catches up with him, putting them both in danger. He travels across America to warn — and be joined by — old friends (and even some foes). Urban’s the agent assigned to deal with Moses, if he can figure him out and catch up.

No modern audience needs a preview to know the two will lock horns in the running, and not everything is quite as clear as it seems.

Joining Willis, Parker, and Urban to add their own unique convolutions: Ernest Borgnine (The Dirty Dozen), Brian Cox (the Bourne series), Richard Dreyfuss (American Graffiti), Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), John Malkovich (Jonah Hex), and Helen Mirren (Excalibur).

The itinerary is every bit as colourful as the dramatis personae: Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Orleans, New York, Virginia, and Washington, as a limited sampling.

This is a fun, funny experience. Never campy or goofy, it’s admirably well-tempered. It manages to feel sleek and satisfying without resorting to speed or confusion. It doesn’t shy from (cartoonish) violence and distinctly coarse dialogue, yet I never felt pushed into finding it cheap or exploitative. It knows its limits and nonetheless impressed me, for the magic it worked within them.

A kidnapper’s awkward rationale . . . a hit man’s chat with his daughter . . . the juxtaposition of hard rock and Muzak . . . all hilarious. The shipyard scene is the most I’ve laughed since Rob’s fantasy in High Fidelity. It’s not relentless clowning ad nauseam, however. Clever improvisations, like bullets in a frying pan . . . the post-production treatment of a drug trip . . . transitions through monitors, postcards, and maps . . . if not all original, then cool. And the effects! I haven’t noticed visual work as dazzling since Wanted (2008) or The Matrix. Check the sequence where Willis “walks out” on a car chase as let-me-see-that-again-once-more proof.

Or maybe it all sounds a bit over-gimmicky. It’s not. Everything isn’t a light show. The script, though pithy as appropriate, is both touching and underwritten in turn. See how Freeman’s character handles a moment where he’s cornered by an assassin. I also appreciated how pivotal scenes were set up, then cut away from, leaving gaps to fill in with imagination.

What, no complaints? I admit, Malkovich’s Marvin wore me out, his paranoid schtick like a tiresome guest, not knowing when to quit. Plus the music wasn’t always to my personal taste, with the crunching, grinding, and roaring electric guitars. And I guess, I’ll grant you, I didn’t learn a heck of a lot, except perhaps a bit of U.S. geography.

Now let me rest my weary bones on the familiar crutch of comparison. If you enjoyed Midnight Run, Mission: Impossible, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ocean’s Eleven (2001), or even The Wrath of Khan, you will almost certainly thank me for recommending RED. It’s The Expendables for the hormone-balanced set.

* * * *

Rated PG

111 minutes

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