When his idyllic life is threatened by a high-tech assassin, former black-ops agent Frank Moses reassembles his old team in a last ditch effort to survive.
Helen Mirren kicking ass in an action movie. That was the attraction 'Red' held for me. The idea of that regal Academy Award-winning actress letting her hair down and taking aim at the bad guys behind an automatic weapon (in an evening gown, no less!) quickly sold me on this action-comedy. Sure, I thought the premise of three crotchety ex-CIA agents jumping back into the fold to help a colleague combat assassins and uncover a conspiracy was pretty cool, but Dame Helen's participation made me really want to see what the writers, director, and other members of the powerhouse cast could do with it.
I really wanted to like 'Red' a lot. My admiration for Bruce Willis dates back to his tenure on the 1980s TV series 'Moonlighting,' and 'Die Hard' still ranks as my all-time favorite action movie. Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich are both two of the best actors of our generation, and Malkovich especially harbors a crazy streak that suits this type of fare extremely well. Add in Hollywood's sexiest over-60 matron (Mirren), the over-the-top Richard Dreyfuss as the irascible villain, and that lovably crusty 93-year-old icon Ernest Borgnine in a small role, and how could this movie about human targets not hit the bullseye?
'Red' is lively, entertaining, filled with destruction galore and loads of tongue-in-cheek humor, but somehow just misses its mark. And that's a shame, because the potential was there for something really special. Based on a three-issue comic book mini-series published back in 2003 and 2004, 'Red' was co-produced by DC Comics, and it's the film's cartoony quality that rubs me the wrong way. Of course, we're dealing with far-fetched situations and an outlandish story, but a little more subtlety and gravity would have gone a long way toward making the movie more involving. Just by showing up, the cast commands respect, and though it's often a kick to watch these accomplished actors goof around, I could completely see them taking on the bad guys without using comedy as a crutch. Director Robert Schwentke ('The Time-Traveler's Wife') adopts a light-hearted, breezy tone that often works just fine, but a little more edge and a little less mugging would have sharpened this sharp-shooting film.
Retired field agent Frank Moses (Willis) lives a lonely, secluded life in suburbia, and the only thing that keeps him going are his periodic phone calls to Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), a lowly pension clerk in a government office. One night, a band of assassins ambush Frank's home, and after his narrow escape, he realizes Sarah will now be in danger due to their cell phone communication. He kidnaps her to protect her, then seeks out other "retired extremely dangerous," or RED, agents to help him figure out why the CIA wants him dead, and solve the mystery that fuels the bureau's dogged pursuit of him.
Much like 'The Blues Brothers,' which it indirectly references at one point, 'Red' is about "getting the band [of assassins] back together," and the feeling of camaraderie the cast engenders certainly raises the movie's likability quotient. Willis maintains his typical action hero cool (complete with omnipresent smirk), but can't disguise his relish at hanging out with, and kicking butt with, his cohorts, all of whom look like they're having the time of their lives. Malkovich is simply a trip-and-a-half as a paranoid, looney tunes, one-man wrecking crew, and Mirren, who claims she modeled her character on iron-willed domestic diva Martha Stewart, brings just the right balance of upper-crust elegance and steel-jawed toughness to her role. (Unfortunately, she doesn't appear until an hour into the film. Note to producers: if there's ever a 'Red 2,' we want more Helen!) Freeman is wonderful, as always, but underutilized here, and Parker perfectly embodies the slightly ditzy, wide-eyed damsel in distress. The real weak link, though, is Dreyfuss, who goes way overboard as the dastardly villain. (Memo to Richard: don't try to steal the spotlight from bona fide legends; you only make yourself look bad.)
'Red' features the customary array of special effects, a decent body count, and slick direction, but the story isn't much and the top-flight cast can only take the material so far. It's certainly fun enough while it lasts, but nothing I'd ever care to revisit. As I said earlier, I wanted to like 'Red' a lot, but I ended up only liking it a little.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Red' comes packaged in a slipcase with raised lettering, and the dual-layer 50GB disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case. Video codec is 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC and audio options include an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Upon insertion, a preview for the CIA thriller 'Fair Game' plays before the full-motion menu with music pops up.
'Red' arrives on Blu-ray sporting a perfectly fine 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer, but unlike the trigger-happy agents in the movie, this effort from Summit didn't blow me away. There's nary a speck or scratch to be found on the pristine source material, but it flaunts a distinct digital look that lends the film a slightly artificial feel. Don't get me wrong, contrast and clarity are quite good and background details are easily discernible, but the transfer lacks that natural, filmic texture that helps to fully immerse us in the action.
Colors possess a nice sheen and good saturation, but fleshtones look a little ruddy, and black levels exude a deep, rich warmth. (Malkovich's tuxedo is darn near perfect.) Whites are bright (Mirren's gown is especially well rendered), but they never bloom, and close-ups exhibit excellent definition. Despite the advanced age of most of the principals, no incidents of softness afflict the image; every wrinkle, age spot, and jowl is crisp and clear. A couple of jagged pans briefly break up the image's stability, but no edge enhancement or issues such as noise or banding crop up.
This is definitely an above-average transfer that serves the movie well, but I can't shake the feeling that it could have been better.
Here's where 'Red' really shines. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track rattles the room with an array of ricocheting bullets, bass-heavy explosions, and thudding punches. This isn't a subtle track by any means, but it's full of range, directionality, and power. Highs are well-pitched and bright, while lows possess plenty of weight and resonance. Dialogue is always front and center and easy to understand, and the well-balanced mix handles all the competing effects with ease. There's more gunfire per capita in this film than in most action flicks, and each volley is crisp and forceful. Excellent stereo separation across the front channels complements the on-screen action well, and the surrounds kick in with enough frequency to keep the ears engaged. Christopher Beck's music score fills the sound field with pure tones and a nice wrap-around feel, and not a hint of distortion mucks up the works. This is a track built for volume, so crank it up and let it fly.
A few supplements distinguish this "Special Edition" of 'Red.' Though the package isn't extensive enough to merit true special edition status, what's included should satisfy the movie's fans.
Fun but forgettable is the best way to describe 'Red,' an action-comedy that was a little too heavy on the comedy for my taste. The cast of old codgers (and I mean that in the most complimentary way) adds considerable luster to the trite story and makes this shoot-'em-up worth watching...once. Good video and excellent audio sweeten the experience, though the extras could be a bit beefier for a "special edition." Those wishing to purchase 'Red' should know there's also a movie-only disc that's about half the price of this special edition, so keep that in mind (Though one BIG caveat: The audio on that edition is LOSSY!). Unless you're a 'Red' fanatic, I'd go that route. And unless you collect every single action movie that comes on the market, I'd just stick with a rental for this one.