Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss… it reads like a who’s who of aging actors, cobbled together into a slightly improbable fighting unit. RED supposedly stands for Retired, Extremely Dangerous. Hm, despite the unlikely premise this is a film that is most confident when it is delivering sucker punchs and most uncomfortable when it is trying to become either a romance, a buddy movie or an out an out comedy.
The problem is, let’s face is, that it’s not the funniest cast. With the exception of Malkovich (and arguably Willis if you accept the Die Hard quartet as comedies) there’s not a lot of comic experience of panache here. The script doesn’t really help them in supposing that Morgan Freeman saying ‘Well, I’ll be damned’ for the millionth time will be funny. Not only does Freeman fail to crack a decent joke but he does absolutely nothing with his character except for in once scene where he performs the terrible mock African accent that he perfected in Invictus. Mary Louise Parker and Brian Cox are left to their own devices, especially after the running gag about Malkovich’s mental instability falls flat.
But the fight scenes have some genuine quality. Willis still has the ‘hard as nails’ thing down to a tee and Malkovich manages to reign in his character’s madness just enough to weild some pretty dangerous looking weapons. Even Helen Mirren, criminally under-used, gets to do her best work behind the scope of a sniper rifle. The final sequence which sees the team trying to take out the Vice President is a genuinely exhilerating and amusing piece of cinema. It’s a shame therefore that much of the lead up to it is limp and lifeless.
Despite Freeman just turning up for the paycheck and Mirren turning up for about three days of shooting, RED is not a total disaster, saved by its sense of fun action adventure. It’s just a waste to see comic potential neutered in such barbaric fashion.