Robert Schwentke’s new film “RED” (that’s “Retired Extremely Dangerous”) opens with a premise that has been done so many times before: an expert assassin has to come out of retirement after his life is suddenly threatened over something that happened in his volatile career.
Retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) awakes one night to find hired assassins in his suburban home. After taking them out one by one, his house is turned into Swiss cheese. He narrowly escapes the same fate and realizes that his retirement is going to have to be put on hold for a while.
After kidnapping Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), a girl he cares for very much and who works at his pension agency, Frank sets out on a mission to pull the rest of the top assassins he knows out of retirement to band together against the person who wants them all dead. The rest of the gang includes Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox) and Victoria (Helen Mirren).
Matheson is in a retirement home in New Orleans. Boggs is a warped, paranoid lunatic living in an underground bunker, the entrance to which is in the trunk of an old car. He was involved in secret government experiments involving LSD year earlier, which explains his madness and his suspicions. Ivan drinks a lot of vodka and works at the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C., and Victoria, the only retiree without a last name, works as a part-time flower arranger – she still takes small hit jobs on the side.
Freeman’s character, we are told early on, has stage-four liver cancer, which indicates that he will probably not make it to the end. Mirren doesn’t show up until later on in the film, but she can sure handle a Gatling gun.
As the bullets fly all throughout “RED,” it becomes clear that there are too many shootouts and not nearly enough wit. The script by Jon and Erich Hoeber, who wrote last year’s unsuccessful thriller “Whiteout,” feels recycled and is too thinly stretched over its 111-minute running time.
Schwentke’s previous films include the bland “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and the marginally entertaining “Flightplan,” neither of which are quite good enough to recommend. “RED,” as a whole, is not much better. Unfortunately, the material doesn’t provide much for the actors to work with, and that is a real shame because this is a dynamite cast. Willis and Parker work terrifically together, and Malkovich is quirky as ever and able to provoke laughs through a simple facial expression. He is a tremendous actor, and as much fun as it could have been to see him take on this kind of role, by the end it ultimately feels like a wasted opportunity.
As if the principal cast wasn’t awesome enough, veteran actors Richard Dreyfuss and Ernest Borgnine make appearances as Alexander Dunning (a weapons dealer) and Henry (the CIA records keeper), but again, the film just doesn’t feel worthy of these fine actors. It is based on a graphic novel of the same name, but after doing some research, it seems that the filmmakers have softened it up a lot, creating a more accessible film to a much broader audience. That’s not always such a bad thing, but despite the great cast, “RED” still suffers from a lack of originality, a weak script and an excess of bullets. Grade: D+