Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
There are many things a diet of far too many movies has led me to believe: Every romance that ends happily begins with hate at first sight. No disaster is so disastrous that the dog will not survive. Explosions behind people have the capacity to throw them dozens of feet, yet not simultaneously burn them. And every trained killer is really, deep down, just a lonely guy in the midst of existential crisis.
The angsty assassin is one of contemporary cinema's favorite tropes, a function of our anti-heroic times. You could fill a film festival with titles dealing with that general theme, and while RED finds a way to make the premise a little more fun, the idea has gotten even longer in the tooth than some of its cast members.
This one comes by way of a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, about a retired-and-extremely-dangerous — hence the title acronym — covert operative named Frank Moses (Bruce Willis). Frank spends his tedious days in suburban Cleveland waking up before dawn, staying in training and flirting over the phone with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), a customer agent in pension services. But the boredom comes to a rapid end when gunmen descend on his home and blast it to splinters. Something from Frank's past has made him a target, and to find out what, he checks in on some former colleagues, many of whom seem similarly ticketed for termination.
Those old friends (and enemies) include Joe, a cancer-stricken rest-home resident (Morgan Freeman); Victoria, a British sniper (Helen Mirren); and Marvin, a paranoid nutcase (John Malkovich). The cast members all appear to be having a blast playing action heroes; Malkovich in particular is a hoot, even if it's starting to feel like he could play this kind of irascible foil in his sleep.
It's also hard to ignore the fact that RED is cashing in on another cinematic cliché: Anything that you'd expect from a younger person (profanity, sex, using a gun) must become funnier or more entertaining when someone with wrinkles does it.
But the surface pleasures arising from that gimmick might have been more satisfying had they revolved around someone more compelling, and less stereotypical. Willis plays Frank with the familiar hangdog expression that is his default "I'm unhappy" acting style, and nothing about his performance suggests that his interest in Sarah is inspired by anything more than, "Hey, it's something to do."
It doesn't help that the subplot that finds him dragging her on his adventures is also fairly played out, although Parker finds an appealing twist on the bureaucrat who's actually getting kind of a jolt out of being in mortal danger. Oddly, the hard-case government guy (Karl Urban) assigned to take out Frank feels like a far more interesting central character for a movie.
It's not that RED doesn't provide individually entertaining moments. Director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan) keeps up a brisk pace, including several wild set pieces involving leaping from skidding cars or firing a bullet directly into the center of an oncoming shoulder-launched rocket. But satisfying performances and a few kicks of adrenaline aren't quite enough to make me care if this particular gun-toting badass, as opposed to the many who've come before him, can find inner peace.