What does it take to make a cool, witty and entertaining action movie? Turns out, the recipe is quite simple. Take a bunch of time-proven dramatic actors that can play pretty much anything, mix them into a spy-game style plot, add in a good handful of humor, intelligence and excitement, a twist of romance, and of course, a healthy dose of action. And you may just get it right. At least that’s the method director Robert Shwentke applied when working on “Red” – and came out a winner.
Bruce Willis here basically plays himself – an action hero in retirement. Or rather a black-ops agent Frank Moses, who, with his glory days long behind him, leads an apparently boring lonely life, and uses his phone to keep “stalking” a pleasant-voiced woman called Sarah responsible for sending him his pension checks. He’s actually planning to set up a date with her, when a Special Forces unit invades his house at night, forcing him to quickly change his plans, deal some damage to his own house and go on the run. His first stop is to pick up Sarah – to keep her safe even if against her will, and next find out what the hell is going on. What’s really going on is that young agent William Cooper (Carl Urban) is trying to get him killed, but he’s just doing his job and neither can answer Frank’s main question: “Why?”
In his search for the truth, Moses discovers a recently murdered reporter, who was asking questions about an operation Frank was involved in years ago, and a mysterious hit list she left behind – it features Frank and a bunch of his former colleagues from the CIA.
So next, Frank seeks them out: Joe (Morgan Freeman), who, despite living in a retirement home, is still a die-hard in true sense of the word, paranoid psycho Marvin (John Malkovich),Ivan – a walking cliché of a Russian (Brian Cox), and elegant but deadly Victoria (Helen “Queen” Mirren).
In the meantime, agent Cooper keeps on chasing Moses with no success until he begins to realize – the tag RED – “Retired: Extremely Dangerous” on Frank’s file means exactly what it says. The true professional that he is – as are his old buddies – never really retires. They may not work for CIA anymore, but they still remember the old tricks very well.
What really singles “Red” out among other action flicks is that it focuses less on explosions and shoot-outs, and more on characters that are a true delight to watch. Freeman, who rocks in every one of the many movies he appears in, is especially awesome when the part is worthy – and it’s exactly the case here. Malkovich is perfect as Marvin who may be paranoid, but also mostly right in his suspicions. LCD experiments in his earlier career might have played with his mind, but he is still very – and I mean Very – handy with weapons. Mirren – like Malkovic – is so rarely seen onscreen shooting a gun, that it’s a treat in itself – besides, she proves an apt action chick – even if she’s just as fit to play someone’s grandma.
And finally “Red” could be interpreted – though probably not meant to – as a dedication to anyone who is forced into a dull life in retirement, having to give up a job they loved and were so good at. “Red’s” Ex-CIA agents simply jump at the opportunity to get back in action, as dangerous as it is, for at least one last time. Or maybe not last. As Mirren’s Victoria admits: “I just can’t stop.”