Thirty minutes into RED and I felt as old as the characters kept moaning about. The remaining hour I could have sworn I started to get a crick in my knee and wanted to complain about those darn kids in my lawn. By the time it ended, I was just grateful.
RED is adapted from the 2004 comic mini-series of the same name that was written by prolific scribe Warren Ellis. I'm a huge fan of the man's work but the comic RED isn't exactly one of his masterpieces, just a quick and fun spy comic and nothing more. One concern in adapting the source material is that there's not much to go on other than "man kills some folks". So the screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber take an approach of mixing Die Hard with Grumpy Old Men and hammer the same jokes home long after they stop being funny.
The rough draft of the story for the film is still the same. CIA Operatives led by Agent William Cooper (Karl Urban) are assigned to take out the retired Frank Moses (Bruce Willis). Prior to the attack Moses was doing a little over the phone flirting with his pension worker Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) and he believes that if he's got a mark on his head, she'll be next to die because he has a crush on her. Since he's an expert retired CIA assassin and all, he easily repels the attack and does the smartest and most plausible thing he can think of.
Moses climbs into Sarah's apartment, packs her bags, takes her hostage and says that they'll be laughing about this some day. Ah ha ha ha ha. Kidnapping and gagging are absolutely hilarious when you do it for love. He then goes on a tour of the planet to make contact with some of his old spy buddies and engage in theoretically funny shenanigans.
First there's Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman) who spends his days asking the nurse to adjust the set so he can stare at her bottom. Ah ha ha ha. Then there's the ultra paranoid Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) who's still concerned about satellite dishes and the efficiency of aluminum in toppling alien conspiracies. Ah ha ha. Finally the straight from Rocky and Bullwinkle Russian caricature Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox) and the icy assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren). I think I was supposed to laugh at some point with these last two but I got tired of trying to force good things from this unfortunate use of life the cast and crew will never get back.
I am convinced that the entire cast was pumped full of powerful anti-depressants and forced to reenact the best action scenes of Tango and Cash. This is the only way to explain how everyone is stuck on the same lifeless method of delivering dialogue like "Man we're old". Willis is the worst of the bunch with a facial expression that's permanently stuck between "my puppy stubbed his paw" and "last night's episode of The Real World really got me thinking". The others fare slightly better but since we're using reality show standards for a feature length action comedy that's damning with the lightest of praise.
The level of energy the cast pretends that they're exuding also extends to the general laziness of the production. For starters, I haven't encountered a film with this much deliberate padding in some time. Every time the characters go somewhere new we're treated to a delightful post card animation of the destination city and a quick series of establishing shots to let us know we're not being lied to. Since this happens only every five minutes or so I didn't have to wait too long to be repeatedly annoyed by this effect.
Also RED counters the problem of having absolutely nothing interesting or funny to say through a curious solution - the audience won't know the dialogue is bad if you hardly have the characters talk. In between the bouts of establishing shot's and more reminders that the cast is old a curious amount of silence forms between sentences. In one particularly egregious use of silence early in the film Bruce Willis looks like he's about to cry into a phone received while Mary-Louise Parker stares at him waiting for someone to say anything at all. This "exchange" goes on for nearly a full minute while I wonder what everyone involved in the production of this movie could have been doing with that spare minute since absolutely nothing happens.
Thankfully, I was free to construct my own plot as the film went along since it sure as hell didn't bother to explain anything for a long time. People in black are shooting at Paul. Why? I dunno, they have a hatred of bald folks I suppose. Why are they hunting these highly dangerous trained assassins? Oh, an hour into the film and we still have no answer. Great. Guess I'll go watch Brian Cox do his impersonation of Rip Torn impersonating a Russian and slam back my own shots of vodka in the hope that my brain will produce it's own titillating conversations.
Alcohol, it seems, is the only real answer when confronted with RED. Since you'll feel time march on slowly and without purpose while the film is running you might as well cloud your other areas of judgement with toxic levels of alcohol to the liver. A night with RED promises to be a disappointing one so take your little comforts while you can, it'll just remind you of one more minute you don't have to live.