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RED – Retired Extremely Dangerous – Review

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

RED - Retired Extremely Dangerous Poster

RED (Retired Extremely Dangerous) probably won’t appeal to everyone but I really enjoyed it.

Spoiler Warning - Post may contain spoilers

I’ve made no secret that RED (Retired Extremely Dangerous) was a film I wanted to see since the teaser trailer turned up on You Tube.  Even once I’d read some reviews that compared it to rotten vegetables I still wanted to see it.  I went last night and I’m Extremely Glad I did.

It’s a fusion of comedy, road trip, spy and action genres.

The comedy is of a sort we don’t get enough of these days.  It didn’t fall back on body function, profanity or any of a thousand easy jokes for cheap laughs.  They could have milked it for twice as many laughs but lost the spirit of the film in the process.

The road trip element, emphasised by the postcards that appeared as the action moved to a new location, allowed the introduction of characters gradually.  This gives each of them time and space to breathe.  We get to see them interact and develop so we get a chance to care about them.

Bruce Willis is excellent in the lead as Frank Moses.  He brings the ability he has to pull off action effortlessly from the Die Hard series.  He also brings the twinkle in the eye from Moonlighting.  Sometimes his skill at comedy and romance is forgotten which is a shame as he brings a really light touch to both.

Mary-Louise Parker was perfect casting as Sarah Ross.  She is an outsider to the spy world that allows for a few good jokes.  Sexy, funny and just vulnerable enough.  I’d contrast her scene where she doesn’t invite her date in even though he bought her dinner with Charisma Carpenter’s in The Expendables who is purely a victim.  Both of them need the heroes help but  Sarah Ross is more than just a victim.

John Malkovich brings the craziness only he can and is wonderful as an agent who’s brain was fried by exposure to drugs.   There is something of Mitch Leary from In the Line of Fire to his performance.  If Mitch hadn’t tried to kill the President but hidden himself out in the Bayou this Marvin Boggs is what he might have become.

Morgan Freeman plays his part nicely as the elder statesmen of the group.  Brian Cox brings the Connery school of Scottish Russian to the film.  His accent slips just often enough into Scottish to add a nice level.   His interplay with Willis and Helen Mirren works.

Helen Mirren’s appearance in the trailer was one of the bits of the trailer that sold me on the film originally.  Like the gun toting citizens in Hot Fuzz there is something unexpected about her with a gun.  When the gun is a tripod mounted heavy machine gun there is an element of genius in casting her against type.  Her steely cold portrayal of an agent who will kill anyone who hurts her friends and who will give up her life for them is again nicely played.  Even though she is added late she acts as a second character who glues the other characters together.

Up against them are the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service and some mercenary hit squads.  Karl Urban connects most of these and while the other characters are on a road trip he takes his own journey.  If one character develops through the film it is his.  He starts out as a cold blooded assassin but along the way we see more of him and he grows.  He isn’t a two dimensional villain pitted against three dimensional heroes.

Then to ice the cake we have two important cameos – Ernest Borgnine’s Henry, The Records Keeper and Richard Dreyfuss’ Alexander Dunning.

Borgnine may not get much screen time and he doesn’t try and steal his scenes.  They could have given his part to an unknown extra but just his presence in the film makes his part interesting.  It adds weight to the character.  Most importantly he beautifully plays a role.  I could happily watch a spy series where his character acts as the link between everything going on around him.

Dreyfuss has more of a role although not a huge amount of screen time.  His character isn’t as well developed as the others although he does get a line where he succinctly sums up his characters purpose.   For that the scriptwriters deserve an award.

The plot holds together, it makes sense.  I’ve heard quibbles about Frank and Sarah getting together but the age gap isn’t unbelievable.  Lonely single guy falls for bored single woman. The only part that’s hard to accept is that he gets to form a relationship with her by calling a call centre. I’ve never spoken to the same person at a call centre twice so he had to get her direct number the first time he called.

The action sequences are clever and the good guys have a level of smarts and improvisation that is amusing from bullets in a frying pan to the way they steer the Vice President into their trap.  The action was well played, not over the top.  It didn’t force them to rely on unbelievable CG shots like The A-Team.  The internal geography of the film was consistent.  The last major action sequence could have become a confused mess of characters in a rather none descript building but it didn’t.  So it didn’t become confused like The Expendables.

My biggest gripe is actually with the trailer.  It stole too many of the best bits from the film.  Not all of them.  However by doing that the film has less impact.  I almost wonder if the trailer shouldn’t have just been just enough to sell the film.

So overall I really liked RED.

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