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Review

CIA film takes romantic twist

Michael Brun

October 21, 2010

The previews for “Red” make it out to be an action/comedy. What they do not tell you is that it is more accurately a romantic action/comedy. Those are a lot of genres for a single movie to cover — so what works? The action is solid. The comedy is mildly amusing. The romance is plain awful. I can see why it was left out of the previews.

From what I gathered of the plot of the comic book, it sounds like movie version of “Red” waters down the best parts in order to transform the story into a shallow star vehicle. The title “Red” is an acronym for “retired extremely dangerous;” a title given to long-toothed CIA agents who have been forced out of the business. Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), once an all-star in the world of contract killing and government toppling, now lives alone in his quiet suburban home. The only excitement in his life is talking to Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), the cute woman at the pension office. After some hitmen make an attempt on Moses’ life, he seeks Sarah out—afraid that they might use her to get to him.

Willis plays himself in this movie, which is basically what he has been doing throughout much of his career. His Moses character is the same sarcastic tough guy we have seen in movies like “Die Hard” and this year’s “Cop Out.” Few actors can get away with recycling the same performance like that, but there is just something about him that is hard to hate. His wise-cracking shenanigans can make even a junk movie like “Live Free or Die Hard” worth watching. The same cannot be said of co-star Parker. Her performance as Willis’ love interest is more irritating than entertaining. Her character shares Willis’ sarcastic wit, but Parker overplays the quirkiness to the point of annoyance. She spends much of the movie acting clueless or falling down hills at inopportune times. Parker’s coupling with Willis is one of the least believable and most cringe-worthy screen romances in years.

The rest of the veteran cast follows Willis’ lead by not straying far from their established image. Morgan Freeman is the oldest and wisest of the bunch, while Helen Mirren is the prim and proper English lady. The wild card is, of course, John Malkovich, whose unhinged performance is what we have come to expect from the eccentric actor.

Along with “Red,” Willis was also featured in this summer’s big-name actioner “The Expendables.” While the latter is the superior movie, “Red” offers viewers a more lighthearted experience. With its PG-13 rating, most of the violence is relatively tame.

There are still a lot of bullets being exchanged, but the shootouts play out like an old “GI Joe” cartoon: There is plenty of shooting, but not many people getting hit.

As far as the comedy goes, it relies mostly on variations of a bad guy calling our heroes old before getting smacked around or blown up. You won’t be rolling in the aisle with laughter, but there are enough chuckles to stave off disappointment. Also, kudos to the writers for avoiding a lazy Viagra joke.

“Red” is not a particularly memorable movie. What we have here is an afternoon diversion that you could very well do without. It will make a great rental if you still remember it in a few months when it comes out on DVD.

Michael Brun is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.