There is a sub-genre of film informally called popcorn flicks and the movies that fall within this category aren’t too challenging. As such, a hard cap is placed on how much enjoyment can be had watching these films, because very little is risked to entertain the audience. On the other hand, there’s very little to dislike about these films once viewers have adjusted themselves to the mediocrity. RED is a popcorn flick. The story is novel and engaging, the characters are fun and well-acted and the drama is dramatic. Nothing ever feels like it could get out of hand, however, undercutting the suspense of not knowing how everything will turn out.
Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired CIA operative who is still attempting to cope with a regular life. To aid in that endeavor is Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), a pension benefits agent whom Frank makes up excuses to call even though they’ve never met each other in person. Unfortunately for both of them, Frank becomes a target of a high-level assassination, which embroils Sarah, forcing Frank to kidnap her for her own safety. Dogging Frank is hotshot CIA agent William Cooper (Karl Urban) who is relentless as he is skilled. Not knowing who’s after him and with his own government trying to stop him, Frank teams up with old friends Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) to get to the source.
RED is over-the-top in many ways, but mainly the action. This is the kind of film where the heroes aren’t fazed by guns being pointed at them and don’t react when explosions go off behind them. Instead, they just walk away in slow motion. Characters in RED can even shoot incoming RPGs out of the air – they’re that good. Impressively, it all looks pretty believable despite the cast’s average age and the action direction was wise enough to keep physical combat to a minimum. Furthermore, many of the kills are novel enough to incite a few chuckles at the cleverness, like batting a lobbed grenade back at the thrower.
What audiences will truly enjoy, however, is the fine acting presented by the all-star cast. Every single one of the actors are the kind of performers that instantly elevate any film they’re in. Willis offers his action edge coupled with his everyman persona that audiences have loved since Die Hard. Freeman is affable and warm as ever. Mirren is so genuine it’s hard not to imagine her character actually existing. Of course, no seems to play weird better than Malkovich. Put all of this talent together and audiences will be dining on acting chops long after the film ends.
The only real issue with RED is that it’s a little silly. All of the characters are having too much fun. No one’s ever scared, except for maybe Sarah, but even she gets over that. Audiences love to have skilled, strong protagonists, but without the fear of failure there’s little point to be invested in the characters’ success. Furthermore, it seems like the film was trying to squeeze a broader work into a shorter running time, because the characters are constantly casting gloomy prognoses about new locations they visit, without cluing the audience in on why the location is significant. “We’ll definitely get shot” seems to be the typical fear of entering some place, but when the characters finally do enter there’s no danger at all. It would have been nice if viewers could understand the fear on a visceral level rather than through exposition that never really gets paid off.
Nevertheless, RED is still a lot of fun once audiences acclimate themselves to the cartoony universe. The cinematography and direction is done well enough to really make these senior thespians badasses. Whether it’s Willis calmly stepping out of a vehicle while it’s spinning out of control or Mirren manning a .50 caliber machine gun, the action will get audiences pumped. The writing can be a bit uneven – especially in some of the more comedic scenes – but won’t break the movie for anyone. So audiences looking for a safe popcorn flick this weekend can’t go wrong with RED, but there’s also only so far they can go right as well.