All through this I kept comparing it with The Expendables, a silly film earlier this year peopled by aging action stars that took itself oh, so seriously. Here we have aging stars Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, and John Malkovich, who, instead of taking themselves as seriously as Sylvester Stallone, Mickey Rourke and the others, laugh at themselves. The result is one of the more entertaining films of the year.
They are joined by Mary-Louise Parker, for whom Willis falls over the phone. But she doesn’t know what she’s letting herself in for. While the entire cast gives wonderful performances, it’s Parker who makes the film wonderfully comedic as the captured girlfriend who overcomes her confused first physical meeting with Willis.
Like The Expendables, there are thousands of bullets shot throughout without hitting much. But that’s the only correlation. This is brilliantly directed by Robert Schwentke, a German who also did The Time Traveler’s Wife, a film that required talent to make it something more than romantic pap. He’s working with an inventive script by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber based on the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner.
Wills, Freeman, Mirren, and Malkovich are “Retired but Extremely Dangerous” (hence RED) as CIA black ops agents. Someone from the agency is out to kill them, lead by Karl Urban, the CIA hit man assigned to kill Willis. Like everyone else in this film, Urban gives a fine performance.
Another enjoyable performance is given by Brian Cox, who plays a Russian operative and former Cold War spy who suddenly finds himself on the same side as the RED protagonists.
While Schwentke keeps the pace up, this is an actor’s movie, and these actors, especially Parker, Malkovich, and Willis perform in such a way that I had a smile on my face almost the entire time. Malkovich affects me much the way Jack Nicholson does. While Malkovich is a long way from the Nicholson’s sex symbol niche, he has the same sort of charisma. I can’t remember seeing him in a film in which I didn’t enjoy his performance, regardless of the quality of the film. Here he is given a long rope with which to ply his wares, playing a guy who has clear mental problems.
Given the fact that the entire cast gives scintillating performances, it shouldn’t be considered a put down to the others to say that Parker and Malkovich stand out.