Saturday, October 16, 2010
The movie title, RED, stands for "retired, extremely dangerous" - and references a bevy of over-the-hill ex CIA operatives who've been put out to pasture, but shouldn't be counted out just yet.
The hero of this story is Bruce Willis's Frank Moses, a legendary CIA killer who's been out of the game for a while, collecting his retirement check in a nondescript white suburban Tudor in snowy Cleveland. As Moses looks around the neighborhood, he sees his door is the only one without a wreath. The next morning, he puts one on, but it won't stay there for long.
You see, a hit squad is after Moses, along with a few of his buds (Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helan Mirren) who happened to have been in South America in 1981 when some black ops extraction happened. A few other grunts were there as well, and someone seems to have created a hit list of all the participants. Everyone but Moses and just a few others have already been taken out.
So when Moses wakes up to find his house under fire, he first casually takes down the assassination squad that's after him, then heads to Kansas City to kidnap the girl with whom he's been playing hanky-poo on the phone (Mary-Louise Parker). Since someone's been tapping his conversation, seems she's a target too.
This is one of those CIA in the kitchen movies. By which I mean, everyone's a CIA agent with secret killing powers and super abilities to dodge bullets, stash automatic weaponry, and infiltrate high-security facilities, but in their hearts they're just aging suburbanites. Basically you and I: driving cars, having fights, idle banter, and home decor issues. I think Tarantino may have invented this attitude in Pulp Fiction (in which case, everyone was a mobster with idle banter and decor issues), but it's come and gone through the years. Now with actual spies in suburban kitchens it seems kind of relevant and fun again.
Chasing after Moses and his compatriots is a younger, nicely-haired, more ambitious version of Moses, CIA hitman William Cooper (Karl Urban, of Star Trek and Riddick fame, in fine form). As Cooper chases down Moses, Moses gets the better of him in most of the situations (an argument for experience over youthful vigor). Hence the movie has the feeling of a Tea Party rally for aging Boomers. Essentially, it's a demonstration in favor of old codgers who still have something in them, confirming what every generation suspects: that the next generation just isn't made of the same, stiff stuff. However, Cooper isn't just a foil. He eventually comes to respect Moses, and the two learn that despite the different generations, they have enough in common.
The pleasure of this movie, then, comes in the casual ironies of old-folks staging assassinations and intrigue for old-times sake, and knocking the stuffing out of the younger dudes. Helen Mirren gives some delicious romantic advice to Mary-Louis Parker about how to know when it's time to assassinate the spy you love. Meanwhile, the younger folks - Parker and Urban, primarily - come to respect their elders and possibly learn something from them.
There's not much more to it than that. The revelations about the cover-up of that 1981 operation lend a serviceable third-act showdown between the Milk-of-Magnesia crew and the government baddies. Malkovich is appropriately zany (he was apparently the subject of some LSD experimentation) and, in this age of scandals and lawlessness, casually proven right about all his paranoia. There's a kind of politically incorrect feel to this film, as if there's some secret pleasure to giving it to all those young, healthy, beautiful people in their prime. It's a shame that some of the big moments in the last act are botched (revelations and decisions miss their punch), probably a result of some rushed editing to make it into theaters, as the movie unfortunately expands all its pent-up energy rather willy-nilly towards the end.
With its premise of ass-kicking aging cast-aways, truly this is a Hollywood script, filled with Hollywood resentments. I doubt that there's anything more socially relevant to its subtext than that. Lightweight, then, but like sugar and soda pop, good for a pleasurable, short rush.