Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Red (Robert Schwenke, 2010) [Netflix Blu-Ray]

Red comes across to me as The Expendables was marketed, but with people who are considered "serious actors." The short story is that it's a somewhat fun, relatively harmless action movie. It's not a bad movie. It's not really a good movie either.

I definitely found some pleasure in seeing Dame Helen Mirren firing a .50 caliber machine gun in a state of unapologetic glee. And John Malkovich was characteristically hilarious in the role of an unhinged, paranoid. Mary-Louise Parker is also in her quirky usual form (I've become a big Weeds fan since Netflix gave me the chance to catch up on the first five seasons). Of course, Morgan Freeman gives the kind of performance that effuses warmth and a deeply good nature, even as a retired C.I.A operative, in cahoots with a bunch of murderous assassins. Bruce Willis... well he's Bruce Willis, and if you've seen a Bruce Willis film in the last ten years, you know exactly what to expect from him. Of all the cast members, he seems to fall flattest, "phoning it in," as they say. Brian Cox also shows up in one of the smaller roles, and he gives a fun performance as a former Russian operative who's siding with his old enemies. He's passable, but like everyone else in this cast, he's done much better work.

The film's story follows a group of retired C.I.A agents who have all been designated Retired Extremely Dangerous (RED) and targeted to . They're trying to stay alive and to find out why exactly there are people trying to kill them in the first place. Pretty simple, straightforward, that's about it.

All of the performances are characteristic of what we've come to expect from the actors giving them, and in a way, that sums up the entire film. It's exactly what you would expect, and not in the most fun way that could be possible. There are some very good scenes, and some very good lines in the film, but there's nothing happening here that is ever surprising, unusual, different, suspenseful... just pretty much exactly what anyone who's ever seen an action film in the last twenty years would expect. Actually, if I'm really honest, this film probably has more in common tonally with the kind of silly, comedic action films of the eighties like Gotcha, Running Scared, Cloak and Dagger, and Romancing the Stone than it does with The Expendables. The only problem is that it's neither as funny or as goofy as any of those films. It definitely isn't oozing testosterone the way The Expendables did, and it's equally aware of it's own ridiculousness, but doesn't really capitalize on it. John Malkovich is given a few very funny lines which hint at this, but the film never really embraces it. I'm not sure if that's due to a studio or the film makers being worried that general audiences wouldn't go along with it or that it wasn't in the original source material (Red was originally a graphic novel). I haven't read the graphic novel, so I can't speak to it's tone, but it just doesn't really work for the movie.

It's not that Red is just a really bad movie. It's not. It's competently made, the performances (with the exception of Bruce Willis) are good, and it's kind of fun. It's that it doesn't seem to even aspire to be anything more than competent, and kind of fun. In a world where the Bourne series exists, that doesn't really cut it anymore. This would have been perfectly at home in the mid-eighties, and would have been one of those V.H.S. rentals little boys all over the country would be trying to sneak past their parents and store owners. And really, this is a much less graphic film than almost any of those (with the possible exception of Cloak and Dagger). Those films tended to have some relatively blunt undertones of sexuality and sometimes relatively graphic violence. And maybe that's the thing about Red that really gets under my skin, it's incredibly safe for a film about assassination. It never feels like any of these characters are really in jeopardy, and it never even attempts to suggest any thematic or story elements that are even slightly risky either. Jason Bourne was a bad ass, and we all knew he was going to make it to the end of the series at the end of the day, but they established a level of drama that was extremely compelling and threw in some absolutely thrilling action sequences. At least in the Bourne films, some of the characters around him, that he cared about and therefore we cared about, were in jeopardy. The action sequences aren't that compelling, and there's really no dramatic tension here. No one here is in jeopardy, ever, and we all know it from the get go.

It's almost as if the film pushed itself into what is referred to as "The Superman Dilemma." How does a writer or film maker make it seem like they should possibly feel like there's something at risk when dealing with a character who can only be harmed by one thing in the universe, a piece of a planet that was blown up at least twenty years ago (if you follow the time line of the original version of the story). He is impervious to everything on earth. How does anyone convince the audience he's in any kind of jeopardy? It's the reason Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are constantly being rescued in Superman comics. No writer who wants to be able to continue to have any credibility would dig up a piece of Kryptonite for every single story. Another way to inject a narrative with the same kind of tension is to put a secondary character our protagonist cares about in jeopardy. In Red, they back themselves into The Superman dilemma, and we never believe for one second their Lois Lane (Mary-Louise Parker) is in any real danger. To add fuel to the fire, there are four Supermen, and a Superwoman.

Red isn't an insult to the intelligence of the audience though, because it never promises to be more than it is, it never suggests it is something other than it is or aspires to be anything else. It's not even really that bad. It's just maddeningly mediocre from the beginning to the end.

The Blu-Ray I got from Netflix, had no special features either. BOOOO! But that is probably the "Movie Only Edition".

There is also a "Special Edition" with a few special features added, but the truth is, it's not an interesting enough film for me to have been that interested in the special features in the first place.

At the end of the day, my complaint about Red comes down to one word: Bland. Maybe I'd have been willing to give it more of the benefit of the doubt if not for the fact that the film makers went through the trouble of putting together a cast of the magnitude this film features. This cast could deliver an incredible film, and instead they're thrown together in something which doesn't equal even part of their talents.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments should be respectful. Taking a playful poke at me is one thing (I have after all chosen to put my opinion out there), but trolling and attacking others who are commenting won't be accepted.