RED (The Review DOES NOT contain spoilers)
At some point during many of Hollywood’s recent big budget offerings there’s been a moment where my ambivalence causes me to conduct a gut check: Am I having fun. Sadly, in most cases my answer – if I wanted to be honest – was, not so much. A realization I would then have to suppress because either it was my job to watch and review the flick or someone else’s hard earned cashmoney had afforded me the opportunity to be unsatisfied and somewhat bored.
With Inception, I was unsuccessful in my attempt to balance the anxiety that films with a lot of ins/outs/whathaveyous cause with the reality that Nolan has never been able to send me out of the theater satiated. With The Karate Kid, I found myself shrugging off the entertainment with a pragmatic, “a mostly talented parentage has yielded a mostly talented kid; good for them!” And these are the Smiths I’m talking about!
RED – based on the cult D.C. Comics graphic novels by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner – occupies the same glorious air as CBS’ current tasty-as-mom’s-meatloaf hit Blue Bloods, Tony Scott’s Spy Game and Willis’ own 2001 Barry Levinson effort Bandits; they are pop culture products that arrive as advertised from A++++ sellers I’d do business with again and again. This is a much welcome reprieve from all the punishing-for-a-marginally-good-reason pop culture out there like Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men. For the record I like both shows well enough, but the latter – well actually its silly, rabid fanboys and fangirls – reminds me of a joke I read in Vonnegut’s Timequake, whose punchline went something like, “This tastes like moose poop fried in motor oil; but it’s good, very good!”
Red‘s running time – 1 hr 51 mins – is probably the only technical aspect of the film I’d cite as a flaw. I am of the mindset that if you’ve been convinced your story needs more than 90 minutes to be told, someone lied to you. It doesn’t. I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed that a film is too short. The other issues with Red involve what Cinematical calls Red’s Damsel in Unnecessary Distress problem (CAUTION: Spoilers in the linked article are hot!) Here’s a non spoilery bit of analytical goodness:
It just goes to show how dedicated Hollywood is to this dichotomy of the tough male hero and the love-interest heroine. I don’t particularly mind that either woman in ‘Red’ has a love story — these subplots are great meat for the film — but I do mind when the habit for damsels in distress taints the world of kickass women — especially when ‘Red’ puts such efforts into making Sarah a whole lot more than the flustered and flighty damsel.
The lady count of the average action film is tripled with Mary Louise Parker, Rebecca Pidgeon (more on her in a sec) and The Mirren, whose performances are, of course, fantastic and engaging. And I don’t think much needs to be said beyond, “Everybody run; The Mirren’s got a machine gun!” to get butts into the theater. Though I did LOL at her line, “I kill people, dear.” Nobody besides Dame Judi or Angela Bassett could sell that line and make you believe it. As for Parker, her work in Red is as brilliant and nuanced as her underrated performance in The Client. Parker is adept at infusing modestly written characters with blistering humanity and authenticity. Plus, I think she’s got great comedic timing. Even when dishing out cheesy laugh track sitcom lines, Parker is able to make me laugh or at least not cringe.
The cast of the well seasoned citizens are wonderful in their familiar way: Willis is smirky coupled with a flat affect, Malkovich is playfully revisiting the banana tree he plucked in 1993’s taut Wolfgang Petersen thriller In the Line of Fire and Morgan’s Morgan, bringing his patented laid back cool with a healthy serving of cheek and self mockery. Brian Cox who is always a welcomed addition to any cast is great as Ivan Simanov, but I had a tiny quibble with his Russian accent, which sounded a bit too “moose and squirrel” for my tastes. It’s a minor quibble, but in an otherwise highly satisfying film it’s a quibble that must be acknowledged. Oh yes, there is ableist use of “lame”, which stung like a slap, given so much of the film’s dialog, plot and characters were so well crafted. The ableist slur had no purpose and was utterly unnecessary. For the record, it was NOT uttered by BRUCE WILLIS. So don’t even start with that.
It was awesome to see Rebecca Pidgeon as Cynthia Wilkes, it’s been a dog’s age (and some change) since she blew the doors off the Mamet (she’s also uh, married to the dude) heist film, oddly enough called Heist. And she’s a brilliant actor so I didn’t expect anything less than a quality performance. But then we get to my two faves: Karl Urban and Julian McMahon! For starters, I never recognize Karl Urban whose cinematic oeuvre had me at, The Irrefutable Truth About Demons, a terribly gory 2000 horror film from NZ. Urban plays a snobby academic who I suppose gets his comeuppance, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the film – my penultimate horror film, The Ring was the last one. Ahh, the things I suffer through for Naomi Watts! I see you, Mulholland Drive – anyway, Urban impressed me in that particular film, because like his ST’09 cast mate Eric Bana, he was incredibly CUTE. He would later wow me with acting abilities – also like Eric Bana. Is there something in the water down under that makes 90% of their acting exports really gorgeous, cheeky and super engaging on film? Can we get some of that here in America for our sitcom and dramatic TV actors? Anyway, Karl Urban OWNS this film. Yes, everyone is great. Yes, we’re all happy they’re getting the band back together, but nobody since that creepy agent from The Matrix – who for the record was not nearly as cute as Urban, but also in the LOTR films, which I haven’t seen and from the Aus/NZ – has gotten the balance between chilling and cheeky correct. Not even Bardem in No Country for Geezers, who after about hour was getting on my freaking nerves and I was screaming at the TV, “BABY BROLIN’S IN THE DAMN HOTEL ROOM HIDING UNDER THE EFFING BED!!!”
Julian McMahon has the delicious, perpetual cheesiness of a John Davidson, which has long been absent from my life. I tell you what, I love Julian McMahon and I hope he takes on more supporting roles and stays away from television, particularly problematic wankery such as Nip/Tuck, unless it’s to host a reboot of The Family Feud and he better kiss a WHOLE LOTTA OLD LADY CHEEK. Speaking of Family Feud connections, if Hollywood is serious about remaking the sci-fi cheesefest The Running Man there is only one actor – Julian McMahon – who could fill the shoes of Richard Dawson. It can’t be remade without McMahon in that iconic role. He’s also enjoyable in those Fantastic Four films. I rather like that he seems aware he’s the Designer Imposters version of Hugh Jackman. Julian, Primo smells just like Georgio, baby. Don’t let anyone tell you different! Oh yeah, Richard Dreyfuss is in this thing too, but I can’t stand him and it seems we’ve run out of time. Red is really the first new release of the year that answers the proverbial question, “Are we having fun yet?” with a resounding, “You bet your sweet ass we are!”