Film review: Red (2010)

di Bonaventura Pictures, DC Comics, Legendary Pictures

STARRING Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban
WRITTEN BY Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber based on Red by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner
PRODUCED BY Herbert W. Gains, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian, Thomas Tull
DIRECTED BY Robert Schwentke

SHOT BY Florian Ballhaus
EDITED BY Thom Noble
MUSIC BY Christophe Beck
DISTRIBUTED BY Summit Entertainment, Warner Bros. Pictures

Screened 2010-10-06

You won’t find me at the front lines of the battle to convince elitists that graphic novels are art. Brought up in midwestern suburbs, let’s just say I’ve seen enough of consumer teenage boys – and their art. This whole graphic novel adaptation fad is only getting stronger, more and more money being pumped into adolescence in one form or another, more directors shirking creativity for the sake of “panel-by-panel image recreation” (remember that scene at the beginning of Chasing Amy when Jason Lee is taking a great deal of fan flack for his diminutive role as nothing more than one who traces images that are created by somebody else? I do). I suppose the novelty is an impressive technical feat, and perhaps it just takes more for me to get my jollies – for instance the technical feats of Kubrick, unmatched. The reliance on digital technology is making it easier for people to live out fantasies which probably should not have come true in the first place. I personally have nursed an epic film idea from the age of 20, but in my maturity I know now that such a project should not happen. I’m a different man. I could make this project now, but why would I want to regress? It would be only for the money and for caprice. Oh hell. Everybody has to keep working. But nobody has standards! I’ve digressed. Let’s talk about this sleep-inducing film.

RED: Retired and Extremely Dangerous. Or was it Routine Empty Delivery? Regurgitation, Ennui, Decrepitude? Recycled Excess of Drivel? We could do this all day.

There is a list. The list has names on it. The names are being crossed off. Still with me? – I realize it’s a wild departure from pulp formula. So there’s this aging guy, Bruce Willis. Once a big-timer. And – oh no! – somebody’s trying to kill him! The failed attempt on his life takes place at his home in the midwestern suburbs (why he’s there we cannot understand) and is perhaps the most shoddily organized hit I’ve ever seen in a film. Three men with high-powered machine guns empty perhaps 20,000 bullets into the front of his house in the middle of the night while they slowly walk toward it (why did the assassin cross the road?) – and this is something we’re not supposed to realize would attract attention. They enter the house “just to be sure” and are easily destroyed by unstoppable superman Paul Moses (Willis) in one of the film’s surprisingly few action sequences. From here Willis jaunts across America to recruit his former CIA buddies, all verging on geriatric, to unravel a murderous government conspiracy – but not before stopping in Kansas City to pick up his cute and useless new girlfriend, Mary-Louise Parker, who will tag along for the rest of the film, cheer him on, and be kidnapped (duh). Her presence is superfluous and an alarmingly amateur plot device, and Parker is thought less of for accepting such a wimpy sidekick role. She has her own television show, for god’s sake.

Red is what happens when the lunatics run the asylum, or when fanboys dictate the careers of stars. This distractingly self-satisfied film feels like Up in the Air meets Mystery Men (if simply hearing that combination doesn’t make you wretch, see a doctor): the mutation yields the lightheartedness of Mystery Men (and the high level of tongue-in-cheek material) and the glacial pacing and grand mediocrity of Up in the Air. Along those lines I’d like to note that I don’t believe there is a shred of originality to be found in this film; it is the regurgitation of career consumers of amateur calibur. For that matter, every role is an absolute cakewalk for the actors involved, who unquestionably signed on for money and prestige. Helen Mirren is a ray of sunshine, as usual, though reducing the Dame to Ass-Kicking-Old-Bitch makes it bittersweet. Brian Cox is, naturally, his fun self. Morgan Freeman is wasted. John Malkovich’s eccentricity is milked to the last. Karl Urban is an intriguing specimen. Bruce Willis, who on earth cares?

Now apparently the print I viewed is still in post-production, so with god’s blessing my technical beefs can be resolved (though I don’t expect it). David Holmes’s score – and this pains me, because normally I like him very much – is distracting, recycled romcom dogshit, that is, when it isn’t taking tracks directly from 90’s caper films Jackie Brown and Out of Sight (a Holmes score, but still) in bald fanboy homage. Director Schwentke tries to achieve a “cool” that he has seen elsewhere, and demonstrates a total lack of knowledge of how to create “cool” by himself. The rather dull, now taken-for-granted HD cinematography (shot by DP Michael Ballhaus’s recessive-gene-ladden son, Florian) does nothing to enhance the affair.

The dynamic between Willis and Louise-Parker is very telling. Moses/WIllis likes the idea of setting his expectations low and just being regular, and dating somebody regular (“dating” at Willis’s tender age of 55), despite the fact that the film is largely about how he and the rest of the REDs cannot help but lead exceptional lives. The film opens with Willis waking up, eating breakfast alone, and roaming around his Midwestern home in a stupor of lethargy. I think the message is this: that perhaps some people like to believe that they are special, and that big things occasionally happen to special people, but that these people would like those things to come right into their homes. They sit and nurse ennui, resenting that excitement does not come to their respective doorsteps (this film opens with Excitement walking to Moses’s doorstep). Not, perhaps, unlike feelings of entitlement that come with excessive consumption of mass media.

Now. I’m being just a bit critical. I’m judging the film by my own standards. Some would tell me that I should relax and judge this as “thoughtless summer fun.” Fine. As thoughtless summer fun, it’s incredibly slow, there really isn’t much action, the would-be sexiness is 10 years or more behind the times and the jokes are not fucking funny. You think I’m incapable of enjoying a stupid action film? I can devour that shit (in a good way). This is a lazy film. Greenlit because of studio suits who said, “No need to do rewrites. No need to concern ourselves with… anything, really. The fanboys want films, we’ll give them films. It doesn’t matter what we give them since they’ll devour anything we offer them, as long as its starfucking material. I love my job. It’s the easiest job in the world!” I suppose I must reconcile myself to the knowledge that there will always be children in the world, even if those children look deceptively like adults – specifically film studio executives.

written by David Ashley