Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stubs - RED




RED (2010) Starring: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren. Directed by Robert Schwentke. Screenplay by John Hoeber and Erich Hoeber. Based on the graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner. Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Mark Vahradian. Run Time: 111 minutes. U.S.  Color. Action.

Seeing that we’ve managed to avoid the apocalypse let’s turn our attention back to Christmas. After the heights of Die Hard and the crashing landing of Die Hard 2, we conclude our BRUCE WILLIS CHRISTMAS salute with RED, a surprisingly good actioner from 2010. Like the other two films, Christmas is not so much a key ingredient as it is a backdrop against which the action starts.

Like our two previous Bruce Willis fiims, this one is also based on a book, in this case comic, a three-part comic book miniseries from 2003 and 2004 also known as RED. The film not only adapts the story, but adds to it. To read the trade paperback, which I did after first watching the movie, is to wonder where the rest of the story is. More than half of the movie is original. As written the original RED wouldn’t last more than 25 to 30 minutes. But this is not padded out to nearly two hours. It is enhanced and frankly made better.

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired CIA operative. One of the best, we’re lead to believe, now living in suburban Cleveland, where he tries to fit in. When he sees that all of his neighbors have put up Christmas lights, he does, too. Frank’s only indulgence in life is calling in to speak with Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) at the customer service desk in Kansas City, regarding his pension checks.

We see that he is trying to woo her, but talking about the romance novels she’s read and speaking to her about her fantasy to travel. He makes tentative plans to see her when he comes to Kansas City.

But one night, rather early morning, all of his plans get changed. A wet team of South African mercenaries comes to Frank’s house, but not to admire his decorations. But Frank is more than a match for them, dispatching the six, but not after they destroy his house.

Calmly, Frank leaves and heads to Kansas City. Sarah is just getting home from a bad date, when she discovers Frank is in her apartment. He tells her that she is in danger. Whoever paid for the hit had been bugging his phone so they know he’s been talking to her. And as if on cue, a hit squad arrives at her building. But Sarah does not go willingly and Frank kidnaps her.

Next stop, New Orleans, where Frank is there to see Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Franks mentor who now has terminal cancer, but still has CIA connections. Frank leaves Sarah tied up in a hotel room. She manages to escape and call the police. The call is listened in on by CIA Agent William Cooper (Karl Urban). A family man, as well as a stone-cold killer, Cooper has been assigned by his superior Cynthia Wilkes (Rebecca Pidgeon) to take Frank down. He sends an agent to take care of Sarah, but Frank returns in time to save her. Last we see Joe, though, a hit man is standing in his room at the rest home with a gun trained on his head.

Frank, with Sarah in tow, heads for New York City. Joe had told him that the hit squad sent to kill him had also killed a reporter for The New York Times. Frank and Sarah visit her mom, who gives them a post card which leads them to a book in a library. In the book is a list of men, all of whom are either dead or targeted for killing. Frank takes the list down to Florida looking for Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), a paranoid former Black Ops who is suspicious of everyone, including Frank and especially Sarah. But Frank manages to convince Marvin that he isn’t there to kill him, which makes them friends. Marvin agrees to help and is able to match the list of names to a mission they had done in Guatemala back in 1981.

One of the men on the list, Gabriel Singer (James Remar) is still alive and the three head out to talk with him. Singer, who works in air freight, had been a helicopter pilot who had been sent to extricate a person from a village where every resident had been killed. While they’re talking to him, Singer is assassinated by a helicopter-borne machine gunner. The trio escapes, only to be the target of a couple of CIA assassins. The encounter is one of the most enjoyable scenes in the movie. And the phrase "Open the pig" will take on a new relevance for you. Naturally, they escape before Cooper can close in.

With nowhere else to go, Frank, Sarah and Marvin go to the Russian embassy, where Frank talks to Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox), a one-time adversary, who agrees to help Frank break into the CIA headquarters. Dressed as a general and with Sarah coming with him, Frank gets into the secret vault where he speaks with Henry (Ernest Borgnine), who gives him the file on the Guatemalan mission and tells Frank that Cooper is looking for him.

So Frank goes to pay Cooper a visit and the two beat each other up. Frank escapes, but he’s been shot. He gets into an ambulance driven by Marvin, but Joe is there. He tells everyone how he escaped death, by turning the tables on his assassin. They next go to visit Victoria (Helen Mirren), a former MI6 agent, who now runs a bed and breakfast. She is also a trained assassin. She takes care of Frank’s wounds and the team devises their next step. They plan to visit Alexander Dunning (Richard Dreyfus), who was involved in the mission, but whose name is not on the reporter’s list. Dunning is an international arms merchant and agrees to see what he thinks is a representative of a nation on the UN’s arms embargo list. Joe, in an over the top General’s uniform, goes to visit Dunning. Victoria and Sarah stay outside, with Victoria prepared to offer cover for the men inside.

Dunning tells them that the person extracted was Robert Stanton (Julian McMahon), an agent who went off the reservation and killed everyone in the village. Stanton was the son of a prominent politician, who, in turn for Dunning’s help, made him a wealthy man. Now Stanton is the Vice-President of the U.S. about to run for the top job and it appears he’s using the CIA to cover up his loose ends.

But the FBI closes in and Cooper offers Frank safe passage. But Joe goes out the front door while Marvin and Frank escape out the side. Even though Cooper gave an order for no one to shoot, Joe is killed. And in their escape, Sarah falls and is taken into custody.

Frank, Marvin and Victoria are picked up by Ivan, who just happens to be in the area and whisks them away. Ivan reveals to Frank that Victoria was the love of his life, but being on opposite sides she had been ordered to kill him, but didn’t. When he woke up he realized she really loved him. He tells Frank that they’ll get Sarah back.

While the CIA is interrogating Sarah, Cooper gets a call from Frank. The trace shows that Frank is calling from Cooper’s house, which is decorated for Christmas, by the way. Frank threatens to kill Cooper’s family if anything happens to Sarah. He also tells Cooper that he intends to kill the Vice President. Cooper gets assigned to the VP’s secret service detail and keeps Sarah close to him to ensure her safety. He takes Frank’s threat seriously.

In Chicago, VP Stanton announces his plan to run for President. But Ivan creates a diversion that causes the Secret Service to try to get the VP out. But Victoria and Marvin set up an ambush which is more than the Secret Service can handle. In a last ditch effort to escape, the VP is pushed into a limousine driven by Frank, who easily discards his protection. When she tries to flee, Victoria is shot, but Ivan comes to her rescue.

Frank calls Cooper to arrange for an exchange, Sarah for the VP. Cooper arrives ahead of Cynthia and Dunning, who are holding Sarah. Dunning shoots the VP, but doesn’t kill him. He tells Cooper if he kills Frank and Sarah he’ll be the next head of the CIA. But Cooper doesn’t like the set up. He aides Frank, and shoots and kills Cynthia, freeing Sarah. Frank knocks out Dunning, who is later killed by Marvin.  Cooper tells Frank that he has the situation under control and Frank’s team escapes.

But while that’s the end of the movie, Ivan makes Frank help with a little nuclear problem in Moldova. In the last scene, we see Frank, pushing a wooden cart with Marvin in drag holding a nuclear device steps ahead of the Moldovan Army.

RED is a fun movie to watch and once again proves that you’re never too old to be an action hero. While this is not a novel idea, see The Expendables 1 and 2 and Live Free or Die Hard and others. What sets RED apart is that it’s also smartly written, acted and directed.

While Bruce Willis has been the focus of these Christmas posts, he is not acting alone in any of the films. And that is no exception in RED. Academy-award winning actors like Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfus bring a certain prestige to a film that uses them effectively. Freeman, who may be best remembered for roles in Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption and his appearance in recent Clint Eastwood directed films, brings dignity and humor to Joe.

At 65, when this film was made, Helen Mirren still has it. No longer the sexy siren she played in Age of Consent (1969), she is still attractive and appealing as Victoria. Mirren, who has appeared in such films as O Lucky Man! (1973), Excalibur (1981), The Long Good Friday (1982) and Caligula (1979) won her award for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen (2006).

Ernest Borgnine, as Henry the record keeper, seems to be having fun and makes the most of his brief role. Borgnine, who died earlier this year, is perhaps best known to a certain generation as Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale from the 1960’s series McHale’s Navy. Borgnine, who won his Academy Award for the title role in Marty (1955), was also the voice of Mermaid Man in Nickelodeon’s long-running animated series SpongeBob SquarePants.

Richard Dreyfus, who plays Dunning a little over the top, won his Academy Award for the role of Elliott Garfield in The Goodbye Girl (1977). He’s also appeared in such classics as Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995). Late in his career he has transitioned from leading man to character actor. In addition to RED, he has recently appeared in W (2008) as well as Piranha 3-D (2010).

While I don’t usually care that much for John Malkovich, as I find him pretentious, he plays crazy pretty well. He brings a fresh take to a character that could have easily gone off the deep end. But Malkovich makes it work. And so does Mary-Louise Parker, whose Sarah gets to live out more than her fantasies when she meets Frank. Parker, best known for the Showtime series Weeds, proves herself a capable actress and holds her own in the company of actors in this film.

RED is enjoyable, fun and smart. Of all the films that we’ve reviewed in our mini tribute to Bruce Willis and Christmas, this is perhaps the best all around. While it didn’t make anyone a star, it shows that a good ensemble cast can breathe fresh life into what could easily have been a run of the mill actioner. It’s a near-perfect non-Christmas Christmas action movie and well worth watching. Of our three Bruce Willis Christmas films, I would say that this one is my favorite.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

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