'RED': A High-Brow Spy Caper
Ever wonder what happens to CIA assassins after they retire? Screenwriters (and brothers) Jon and Erich Hoeber decided to find out, to hilarious effect.
“RED” is one of those rare movies that fulfills the expectations of its genre while delivering a unique twist. This action movie/spy thriller is also a character study of some aging spooks, driven by the character of Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), who longs to experience a bit of a “normal” life.
But what makes this film special is that it is genuinely funny, and not in a silly or snarky way. The humor comes from the mix of crazy situations and charming characters rather than from clever dialog.
The director sets the tone early, introducing each of the many locales used with a postcard that morphs into the first scene in that city. It’s clear from the start you are beginning a fun and colorful adventure.
When we first meet former CIA assassin Frank Moses, he’s leading a quiet, dull life, trying to integrate himself into middle-class society. When he notices all his neighbors on the street have put up Christmas decorations, he does the same. But he doesn’t really fit in, of course, as his neighbors are about to find out in spectacular fashion.
Frank has also developed a bit of a crush on his case officer at the VA benefits office, Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker). He plans to meet her, but his past intervenes, and soon Frank and Sarah are off on an adventure neither saw coming.
Frank is soon aided by fellow assassins Joe (Morgan Freeman), a former CIA experimentee named Marvin (John Malkovich), and the beautiful Victoria (Helen Mirren) as Frank seeks to discover who is trying to kill him and why.
And this is perhaps why the film works so well. These actors are fun individually, but when you mix them together, the humor increases.
The film also pits the older spooks against their arrogant younger successors, with somewhat, though not entirely, predictable results. But as the travelogue postcards hint from the beginning, it’s not the destination, but the journey, that matters.
The plot is a bit thin, but to me, that wasn’t the point. I wasn’t looking for a thoughtful, complex, “Rubicon”-like conspiracy, and I didn’t get one. But I did get more than the usual action flick fare, with a few delightful twists along the way.
I loved the mix of outrageousness and banality. There was minimal reliance on James Bond-ish gadgetry, but simple items, like police cars and handguns, do some unbelievable things! Some of the hijinks are pure movie magic, while other sequences are scarily believable.
The actors, and their unique deliveries of their parts of the story, are what sell this film.
Malkovich is at his kooky best. Mirren is lovely and deadly. Willis is surprisingly vulnerable, for an assassin. Parker is giddy but resourceful under fire. And you can’t help but smile at the effervescence of 93-year-old Ernest Borgnine as the keeper of the most secret history.
“RED” was inspired by a DC Comic of that name that had a very short run, but the writers essentially borrowed the background of the main character and re-imagined the rest. So if you were a fan of the comic, this is a very different story.
There are several good movies playing right now that I really enjoyed. “The Social Network” was intellectually intriguing, as was Stone's “Wall Street” sequel. “Secretariat” was inspiring. But “RED” was simply the most fun, and given the serious issues we're facing right now as a country, for me, it provided the most complete escape, however momentarily.
So even if you’re not normally a fan of the spy genre, hop on and let “RED” take you for a spin. Trust me, you’ll enjoy the ride.
Lisa Pease is a historian and writer who specializes in the mysteries of the John F. Kennedy era. She's also a movie buff.
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