In a year where we have had four different mercenary team-up movies release, "Red" illustrates that age means nothing. This simplistic action extravaganza has everything you need to have a general blast at the movies. It is action packed, filled with brilliant wit and most of all brimming with numerous characters that are easy to become vested in.
Like many other comic book adaptations "Red" is sleek and stylized, but not so much that it ever diverts attention from itself. The film is instead elegantly blended with comic relief, wild action and mild tension. The film also never takes itself too seriously while not becoming a slapstick action either. A rare blend that is hard to master, but director Robert Schwentke does a impressive job tackling it. Helps that Schwentke and screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber had a light-hearted and fun source material to adapt from. A comic that is every bit as fun as the movie, but now we get to see the story play out with talented actors in the original characters penned by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. A avenue that gives me a whole different appreciation for the comic.
The cast of "Red" is perfect. There is not a single actor I would replace. You have an all-star group within the film including Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Richard Dreyfuss and Brian Cox. All those names are the elderly members of the cast that prove age isn't holding them back. You also have dynamic performances from Karl Urban and Mary-Louise Parker making up the younger portion of the main cast. As I previously pointed out, all of these characters are easy to become vested in. While they may be mercenaries, they are natural, engaging and most importantly feel real. All too often the mercenary character is unreachable, someone that no one can connect with. Here each character is very personable and feel like people you would have regular conversations with.
John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox steal the movie. While everyone in "Red" looks to be having a ball filming, Malkovich, Mirren and Cox all just drip of likability. Honestly I don't think there was a moment on screen with John Malkovich where I wasn't smiling ear-to-ear. His character is both erratic and ridiculous but to the mastery of Malkovich he pulls it off in effortless fashion. This is not to say that Bruce Willis or the rest of the cast do not deliver, because everyone does. Watching this movie you wonder what the outtakes looked like. This film could probably have a b-roll during the credits something similar to the Grumpy Old Men movies with Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis yukking it up. Even Ernest Borgnine in his very limited cameo seems to be having a genuine good time. It should be noted, while I say it is clear everyone is having a good time, it doesn't mean the actors are breaking character. This isn't like SNL or anything, the actors stay totally in character, you can just tell they really loved making this movie.
My one gripe with the cast comes in Mary-Louise Parker. Now this will take a wee bit of explaining because I actually both liked and disliked her performance. The problem I have with Mary-Louise Parker is that her character Sarah Ross seemed to be written in the vein of Parker's character Nancy Botwin on the Showtime series Weeds. Either that or director Robert Schwentke asked Parker to play the character exactly the same. Now I love the character of Nancy Botwin but it became a distraction or more of a disappointment to see Mary-Louise Parker stuck playing a typecast. I would have loved to see Parker play this character differently. That said, her performance is spot on. There is a reason Weeds is in it's sixth season and Parker's ability is definitely apart of that equation.
The action and espionage throughout "Red" is titillating. Rarely does a action force me to physically "ooh and awe" in a theater, but I certainly did both while watching the onslaught of shooting, explosions and car chases within the 111 minute film. I also have to give a fair amount of credit to mystery and evasiveness. Whether it be the film's pacing, editing, storytelling or a combination of all three "Red" does a solid job of never giving away too much information and leaving some mystery yet to unfold. The action furthermore rolls long at a steady speed never slowing down long enough for the viewer to lose interest. A good reason most any lulls in action are easily forgotten is because all the down time is filled with genuine laughter from the rich performances and moods of the all-star cast.
Finally "Red" is an action I can get behind. It exceeded my expectations and proved it has a ton of heart and likability. Its a film I could see serialized. It has a top tier cast and plenty of room for growth. I'd be fine with further missions of the Retired but Extremely Dangerous mercenaries. On the other hand, "Red" is a fulfilling film on its own. It could be just one film and I'd feel satisfied that the original comic was done justice. Lastly "Red" delivered on all fronts, something not all the other mercenary team movies can say this year.